For the week ending 8 July 2017 / 14 Tammuz 5777

Tammuz, Av and the Zodiac: Part 2

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Rodney

Dear Rabbi,

Since the months with holidays are considered “good months”, are the months of Tammuz and Av considered “bad months” since they have days that commemorate the destruction of the Temple?

Dear Rodney,

In the previous installment we explored the permutations of G-d’s name for these specific months, and how they affect their nature and the events that occur within them. In this part we’ll explore how the zodiac signs are related to and influence the quality of these months.

Sefer Yetzira, an ancient kabalistic text which pre-dates the Talmud (see Sanhedrin 65b), and contains teachings which are attributed to Abraham, makes the following associations (ch. 5): The month of Tammuz is governed by the sign of Cancer (Crab) and corresponds to the Hebrew letter ‘chet’ (ח), the sense of sight and the Tribe of Reuven. The month of Av is governed by the sign of Aries (Lion), and corresponds to the Hebrew letter ‘tet’ (ט), the sense of hearing and the Tribe of Shimon.

For now, we’ll elaborate on the teachings of Sefer Yetzira regarding the zodiac signs and leave the discussion of the Hebrew letters, human faculties and Tribes for the next and last part of this discussion.

Tammuz is governed by Cancer, the Crab. Just as the crab claw bites, leaving a painful wound, so too the historical events of Tammuz made a painful incision into the Jewish People and put them in the clasp of destruction.

Thus our Sages taught (Ta’anit 26b) that five great catastrophes occurred in Jewish history on the 17th of Tammuz: 1. Moses broke the tablets at Mount Sinai in response to the sin of the Golden Calf; 2. The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem; 3. Jerusalem's walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE; 4. The Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll; 5. An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple as an act of blasphemy and desecration.

Av is governed by Aries, the Lion. Just as a lion conquers, overwhelms its prey and devours, so too the events of Av brought about the conquest of the Jewish People and the destruction of the Holy Temple.

Thus, our Sages taught (ibid.) that five great catastrophes occurred in Jewish history on the 9th of Av: 1. As a result of the spies’ evil report, G-d forbids the Jews of the Wilderness from entering Land of Israel; 2. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled; and also the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. 3. The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian; 4. Beitar, the city of the Jews' last stand against the Romans, was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered; 5. The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city renamed Aelia Capitolina, and access to it was forbidden to Jews.

In the coming, concluding discussion, we will explore the remaining teachings of Sefer Yetzira regarding which of the Hebrew letters, the human senses and the Hebrew Tribes are related to and influence the quality of these months.

  • Sources: Bnei Yisaschar, on Tammuz and Av, section 1, by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira (c. 1783-1841) of Dinov, Galicia, Poland

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