Tomorrow (July 20), the Jewish people will observe the fast
day of the 17th of Tammuz. It was on this day that Moses, descending from
Mount Sinai and seeing the people of Israel reveling around the golden calf,
cast the tablets of the Ten Commandments to the ground and broke them. Later
in history, the walls of Jerusalem were breached on this same day, the Torah
was burned, an idolatrous statue was placed in the Temple, and the daily
sacrifices were suspended. This day marks the beginning of the three week
period of national mourning which culminates with the solemn fast of Tisha
B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av), the day on which both the
First and Second Temples were destroyed.
Although the destruction of the Holy Temple
actually took place later, during the month of Av, our sages teach that the
month in which we now find ourselves, the days of Tammuz, is considered a
more severe time.
One reason for these negative associations with
Tammuz is connected to the mission of the spies who were sent to the Land of
Israel (Numbers 12). It will be recalled that the spies returned on Tisha
B’Av, and delivered an evil, faithless report to the people of Israel.
With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, who valiantly attempted to rally the
nation, these 10 spies turned the hearts and spirits of the people against
the Land of Israel. Based on their own feelings of inadequacy, they saw
danger and power where none existed. Returning to the people, they spoke
“lashon ha’ra,” evil speech against the Land. The nation accepted this
report at face value and estranged themselves from G-d and His promises of
Divine assistance. Thus the entire calamitous episode of the spies’
rebellion against the Land of Israel and the people’s rejection, was a
result of seeing, speaking, and hearing evil.
The spies began their mission at the end of the
month of Sivan, departing on the 29 day of that month, and returning on the
ninth of Av. Thus, the last days of Sivan, and the first part of Av,
were tainted to some extent by the roguish reconnaissance of the spies. But
as for the month of Tammuz from the first day to the last, that period
was completely taken up with their mission. The stain of the spies’ sortie
inexorably affected each day in that month, and since then Tammuz has become
a time fraught with difficulties.
Even at this writing, the mad spectacle of the
Camp David “peace talks” continues. The very survival of the Jewish
people is at stake, as our morally bereft leadership continues along a path
of self-destruction, and promises our precious homeland to the enemy of the
Jewish people in exchange for…nothing. And in the meantime, the
Palestinians are preparing for war and mayhem.
However, at the same time, Tammuz is also the
month which features the longest day of the year the day with the most
sunlight. It is merely an ironic coincidence that the month with the
greatest propensity for spiritual darkness offers the most intense
This paradox is a reflection of the spiritual
essence of the Jewish people and the secret of their survival. Even at the
time of greatest darkness and opposition, the potential for redemption and
the most powerful light is already inherent and rising.
The same is true of the magnificent generation in
which we live. While some may decry it as base and lacking, in reality this
generation is driven by a deep thirst for holiness and spiritual values. The
current spiritual struggle being waged within Israel is being fought over
the future of this singular generation for the outcome will determine the
future character of the State of Israel, and the Jewish people.
Last Shabbat, which Prime Minister Barak spent in
Camp David, we read the Torah’s account of the heathen sorcerer Bilaam who
was hired by the Moabite King Balak to curse the Jewish people (Numbers 22).
Like Camp David, this was also a “summit meeting” whose purpose was to
bring about the destruction of Israel.
However, the Holy One of Israel changed
Bilaam’s curse into a blessing, for “G-d is not a man, that he should
lie.” Instead of the powerful curses that Balak wanted delivered upon
Israel, Bilaam recited beautiful prophetic blessings. “How goodly are your
tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel” is a “curse” uttered by
Bilaam that has been incorporated into Israel’s daily prayers. Thus here
in Israel we took heart from the timing of this event and the corresponding
weekly Torah portion.
At the very moment of this writing, Israel Radio
has reported a news flash that Prime Minister Barak has decided to
leave Camp David without signing an agreement, declining to even wait the 24
additional hours that President Clinton has requested for an extension. The
report says it has become clear to Barak that the Palestinians are not
acting as genuine partners.
Perhaps Prime Minister Barak, having heretofore
mistakenly followed the path of the spies, and having shown fear and
hesitation, has now decided to change his curse into a blessing. Or perhaps
these reports of Barak’s planned exit are nothing but a bluff, more
disinformation, and that ultimately an agreement will be signed. An
agreement that will disgrace Israel, endanger its future, place its children
in jeopardy, and sell its birthright for emptiness…but that will insure a
peace prize for its signers.
In these uncertain days of Tammuz, we would do
well to ponder the misdeeds of the spies, both ancient and modern. Let us
seek to rectify their destructive actions, and to reverse the current trend
of turning against the Land that G-d has promised us. Let us endeavor to
see, speak, and hear no evil against the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Chaim Richman THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE JERUSALEM