“Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city.” (2 Kings 25:4)
While for much of the world summer is a time of joy, relaxation and vacations, for the Jewish People it is a time of mourning and remembrance of great loss, including the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.
In modern times in Israel, summer can also be a time of war.
In the summer of 1967, the Six Day War was fought. During the summer of 2006, the Second Lebanese war broke out.
This year follows the same trend. In response to heavy missile fire from Gaza over the last month, which is reaching further into Israel than ever before, Israel has launched Operation Protective Edge to defend Israeli citizens whose businesses, transportation, and homes are being destroyed and whose peace is being shattered.
Israel now stands in the midst of an existential battle as Operation Protective Edge rages on. She fights back as her enemies pursue her from beyond her borders. Each day sees hundreds of rockets and missiles raining down on all parts of the country.
Tonight, as terrorist missiles continue to fall on Israel, Jews around the world will solemnly prepare for a fast that recalls historic tragedies that befell the Jewish People on the Shiva Asar B’Tammuz (בתמוז עשר שבעה), which is more simply called the Fast of Tammuz or 17th of Tammuz.
Although the 17th of Tammuz begins at sundown, the fast begins at dawn tomorrow morning and lasts until sunset.
In the midst of bombs blasting and windows shattering, we fast and lament a great tragedy—the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans under the command of Titus, in AD 70.
This melancholy day ushers in the three-week period of mourning called Bein HaMetzarim (Between the Straits), which culminates with Tisha B’av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Holy Temple.
The fact that the current bombardment of Israel is coinciding with this time called Between the Straits is both distressing and chilling.
The 17th of Tammuz is a day of ominous coincidences.
While we remember the breach of the wall tonight and tomorrow, this is not the only tragedy that happened on this day. Throughout history, a host of others occurred, as well. The Mishnah (book of rabbinic teachings) records five in all.
The first tragedy happened in the days of the Israelites after the Exodus. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Tablets of the Law (Ten Commandments) and saw the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf, he smashed the tablets.
To understand the timing for this, it is helpful to know that Tammuz 17 occurs 40 days after the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost). On Shavuot, Moses ascended Mount Sinai where he remained for 40 days.
On the 16th of Tammuz, thinking that Moses would not return, the Israelites constructed the Golden Calf. The next day, the 17th, when Moses descended, he saw that they were violating the laws God had given and he destroyed the tablets.
Another tragedy occurred during the First Temple Era. The daily Temple sacrifices were cut off on Tammuz 17 (Taanit 28b). Since the city was under siege by the Babylonians, it was no longer possible to obtain the animals for the sacrifices.
A year later to that very day, Nebuchadnezzar and his invading army breached the walls of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:2–7). (Although Jeremiah 39:2 and 52:6–7 seem to indicate that this breach happened on the 9th of Tammuz, the Jerusalem Talmud [Tannit 4:5] states that it took place on the 17th and that the timing given in Jeremiah was distorted due to the distress of the times.)
Three weeks later, the First Temple was destroyed on Tisha B’av.
The Mishnah states that during the Second Temple Era, Titus’ armies also breached the walls on Tammuz 17, and three weeks later, they destroyed the Second Temple on Tisha B’Av in AD 70.
The breach of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First and Second Temples on these same dates, so many years apart, defies coincidence.
It speaks of the hand of God and judgment, and that is why the summer is such a time of mourning and repentance.
But there is yet more that has happened on this date.
It was also on this date that the Jewish King Manasseh had an idol placed in the Holy Temple (2 Kings 21:7).
As well, a Greek oppressor named Apustemus burned the Torah on this day during the time of Antiochus Epiphanies.
Five events in more recent times that also occurred on the 17th of Tammuz include the following:
- 1239 – Pope Gregory the IX ordered the confiscations of all copies of the Talmud.
- 1391 – 4,000 Jews were killed in Toledo and Jaen, Spain.
- 1559 – The Jewish quarter of Prague were burned and looted.
- 1944 – The entire population of the Kovno ghetto was liquidated.
- 1970 – Libya ordered the confiscation of all Jewish property.
Observing Bein HaMetzarim: Between the Straits
“Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwells among the heathen, she finds no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.” (Lamentations 1:3)
The three-week period of mourning observances that begins tonight increase in intensity and culminate on the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), which coincides this year with August 5.
Such observances include no Jewish weddings or major celebrations.
Some abstain from cutting their hair or shaving while others refrain from attending concerts or even listening to music.
For Ashkenazi Jews, the last nine days of the three weeks are especially intense.
Many do not eat poultry, red meat or wine, and they refrain from the luxury of wearing freshly laundered clothing and taking warm baths. Although Sephardi Jews also observe many of these customs, they do so beginning the Sunday before Tisha B’Av. If the 9th of Av falls on Sunday, however, these customs are dispensed with.
While some may wonder the purpose of such days of fasting on the Jewish calendar, Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov explains that they are designed “to awaken hearts towards repentance through recalling our forefathers’ misdeeds; misdeeds which led to calamities.” (Book of Our Heritage)
Indeed, as the breach of the wall in Jerusalem is remembered, it is a good time for all Believers not only to stand with Israel, but also to take stock of their lives.
Sin can cause a breach or gap in the protective wall surrounding us. Through that breach, the enemy (Satan) can enter in and wreak havoc in our lives or the lives of those for which we are responsible.
As we take stock, we should to repent and seek God’s never-ending grace for our shortfalls.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
The Search for God During the Three Weeks
There is a Hassidic (branch of Orthodox Judaism) parable (mashal) that relates to this three-week period of mourning.
A story is told of the grandson of Rabbi Baruch of Medziboz who was playing hide and seek with another child. After hiding and waiting a long time for his friend to find him, he popped out of his hiding spot only to discover that his friend was not looking for him.
The boy ran to his grandfather. With tears rolling down his face, he explained that his friend had stopped looking for him.
In response, the rabbi said, “Indeed. That is exactly what the Almighty Himself says: ‘I hide myself but nobody wants to look for Me.’” (Rabbi Aryeh Hendler)
Although every child enjoys hiding, he still wants to be searched for, and Rabbi Baruch wisely pointed out that God hides Himself because of our sins. Nevertheless, He wants us to seek Him out and to really desire to find Him.
Sadly, like the child’s young friend, we too often fail to respond to the challenge to find Him. But His promise remains that we will find Him when we search for Him wholeheartedly.
“You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
This three-week period of mourning is an opportune time to seek God with all our heart.
The 17th of Tammuz and these next three weeks remind us that there have been times when God’s face has been hidden because His people strayed so far that they found themselves beyond the bounds of His protective covering.
“And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide My face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’” (Deuteronomy 31:17)
Let us examine our ways and look for possible breaches in the walls that surround our soul in order that we through teshuvah and redemption might repair them and renew our relationship with our Father in Heaven.
Let us also pray that not only those who know Him will use this time to renew their relationship with their Creator, but also that all of Israel will sincerely seek Him and find Him.
From Mourning to Joy
“But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” (Isaiah 65:18)
The Talmud (Ta’anis 30b) states that “all who mourn over (the destruction of) Jerusalem merit to see her in her joy.”
In other words, all of those who mourn the destruction of the Temple and appreciate the enormity of its loss will share in the joy of seeing it again re-established in all its glory.
We know that in the coming Messianic age, the Messiah will reign from the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Today we wait for the imminent return of the Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) and the establishment of His Messianic age.
The Talmud teaches the Jewish People to have hope because following the future redemption of Israel, for which we pray daily, and the rebuilding of the Temple, to which we look forward with great expectation, the fast days will become days of rejoicing and festive occasions. The summer will become a joyful time.
And although Tammuz 17 is obviously not a fast that God instituted through Moses, Zechariah prophetically mentions it as a day that will be transformed into a day of gladness.
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘The fasts of the fourth [Tammuz], fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.’” (Zechariah 8:19)
God will turn our mourning into dancing and clothe us with joy (Psalm 30:11). Just as the prophet Zechariah prophesied, the 17th of Tammuz will become a feast day of joy.
During this dire period, as Israel seeks to end the siege against her, we must not be overcome with discouragement or fear due to the troubles we see mounting in Israel and around the world.
Although, we are entering this three-week period of serious teshuvah with bombs falling, we must also have a sense of joyful expectation knowing that God hears our prayers. Our prayers for peace in Israel, and for our Jewish people—that they might find their Messiah—will be answered.
For the next three weeks especially, let each of us be those prophetic watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem, making intercession for Israel and the Jewish People.
“I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” (Isaiah 62:6–7)