During the month of Tamuz we begin the period called the three weeks, the time period between the fast of the 17th of Tamuz and the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av. On the 17th of Tamuz , Moshe broke the first tablets upon seeing the golden calf, while the walls of Jerusalem during the time of the Temple were breached, leading to its destruction three weeks later on Tisha B’Av.
These two instances of breaking, mirror an even earlier event in creation, the primordial “breaking of the vessels” spoken about in Kabbalah. This archetypal event symbolizes the underlying imperfection of reality, along with our more optimistic mission to rectify reality by “lifting up the fallen sparks.” This ongoing existential tension is alluded to in the statement in the Zohar: “Weeping is wedged in my heart on this side, and joy is wedged in my heart on the other side” (Zohar 3:75a).
Another historic incident occuring in the months of Tamuz and Av is the story of the spies in the desert, who went to spy out the land of Israel and detailed in the book of Numbers. Their trip, which included the entire month of Tamuz and ended tragically upon their return on Tisha B’Av, lasted 40 days. It was on that fateful day that ten of the spies reported that they would not be able to enter the land, thus causing the people to cry to return to Egypt.
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the “sense” of the month of Tamuz is sight, while the “sense” of the month of Av is hearing. Their faculty of sight was only able to see the land of Israel superficially. Their hearing was blemished by their listening to the evil report and accepting it at face value. It is clear that they were not seeing deep enough and their hearing lacked true discernment. From this we can learn that the rectification of the spies is to learn to see much deeper than just the surface and to understand much more deeply the implications of what we hear.
In relationships, this means to always look at the soul within a person, to empathize and see the bigger picture of each situation; to judge others favorably and to learn to constantly stand in another’s shoes. To hear what someone is really telling us between the lines, what their heart is crying out to us.
We need to see on one hand how in every broken person and situation there is the potential for true wholeness and rectification, while at the same time, beneath the superficial veneer of reality there is a broken world all around us. A Chassidic Rabbi taught: “There is no vessel as whole as a broken heart” (Degel Machaneh Efrayim on the Torah portion Vetchanan). We need to be just broken enough to feel and relate to the pain of others, but not so broken that it prevents us acting positively and forcefully to heal, mend and fix wherever we can. It is the essence of walking the tightrope of life, or as Rebbe Nachman said: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge – but the essential thing is not to be afraid” (Likutei Moharan; second section, #49).
One place where sight and hearing come together is when saying Shema Yisrael. We want so much to see truth and God, we not only close our eyes, but we cover them as well. The closer something is to us the more we have to close our eyes to see. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach taught that is why when we kiss our beloved, we intuitively close our eyes, as if to say – “I don’t want my physical eyes to blind me to the true vision of our inner love and unity.” The same applies when we say the Shema – at that moment we want to unify with God, our ultimate beloved. The hearing of the Shema is not just hearing, but understanding on a deeper soul level that the full implication of the oneness of God is not just that God is one, but that all reality is essentially one.
The great paradox of these months and the deeper teaching they hold for us is that both fast days were meant for great joy and accomplishment. On the 17th of Tamuz, Moses was meant to descend with the two tablets of law and begin the process of fixing the world. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh teaches that 17 is the numerical value of the word tov, “good”. The 17th of Tamuz was the 40th day after receiving the Torah at Sinai and was intended to be the culmination of all goodness, the ultimate purpose of creation. The return of the spies after 40 days was to have been the beginning of the Jews preparing to enter the land of Israel from where they would fulfill the mission to be a “light unto the nations.”
The potential of both days was squandered and now it is left for us to restore these months to their original purpose by making the rectifications needed. We are taught that the Messiah is born on Tisha B’Av and that redemption will come out of exile, light out of darkness, joy out of sorrow. We must take current events and our own personal trials and see the deeper messages we are being sent. By attuning our inner eye to the unity and oneness of God and our inner ear to His constant messages to each one of us, we will know how to contribute what we can to creating a better world, one day at a time. There is no more important or urgent a task.