For the week ending 15 July 2017 / 21 Tammuz 5777

Tammuz, Av and the Esoteric Influences: Part 3 of a Series

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 how the zodiac signs govern these specific months and how they affect their nature and the events that occur within them. In this part we’ll explore how other mystical factors, such as the Hebrew letters, the human senses and the Hebrew Tribes, are related to and influence the quality of these months.

Recall that Sefer Yetzira (ch. 5) teaches that in addition to being governed by Cancer, the month of Tammuz corresponds to the Hebrew letter ‘chet’ (ח), the Tribe of Reuven and the sense of sight. In addition to being governed by Aries, the month of Av corresponds to the Hebrew letter ‘tet’ (ט), the Tribe of Shimon and the sense of hearing.

The letters influencing these months, ‘chet’ and ‘tet’, are alluded to in the Scroll of Eicha, lamenting the destruction of the Temple which occurred in these months, “Jerusalem has sinned (חטא חטאה)” (Lamentations 1:8). To illustrate the influence of these letters, the Ba’al HaTurim (Gen. 49:1) cites the Midrash which teaches that when Jacob gathered his sons to his deathbed, intending to reveal to them the time of the Final Redemption, his prophetic vision was occluded. He said to his sons, “Perhaps there is sin (‘chet’) among you?” They replied, “Look and see that there are no letters ‘chet’ and ‘tet’ in our names”. This demonstrates that the letters ‘chet’ and ‘tet’ occlude redemption.

Furthermore, the Sages taught (Berachot 4a), “It would have been fitting for G-d to perform miracles for Israel in the days of Ezra (upon returning from exile into the Land of Israel) as in the days of Joshua, except for the influence of sin (‘chet’)”. Interestingly, we find in verse Ezra 7:8 that Ezra returned to the Land of Israel in the fifth Hebrew month, which is Tammuz, influenced by the letter ‘chet’. Accordingly, the fact that the exiles returned from Babylon during the month of Tammuz, under the influence of the letter ‘chet’, hindered the degree of their redemption, effectively prolonging exile.

Regarding the correlation of the Tribes and the human senses to these months, the 13th century Spanish Kabbalist Rabbi Yosef Chiquitilla writes in Sha’arei Ora (Gate 5, p. 65b) that the encampments of the 12 Tribes in the wilderness, in four groups of three each, correspond to the four seasons of the year, consisting of three months each. Thus, the Tribes of the first encampment — Judah, Yisaschar and Zevulun — correspond to Nisan, Sivan and Iyar. The Tribes of the second encampment — Reuven, Shimon and Gad — correspond to Tammuz, Av and Elul; Reuven to Tammuz and Shimon to Av.

Coupled with the teaching from Sefer Yetzira that Tammuz and Av are related to sight and hearing, this correlates Tammuz-Reuven-Sight and Av-Shimon-Hearing. In fact, the very names of these Tribes are derived from the Hebrew words for these senses. When Leah gave birth to Reuven, she so named him because she said, “G-d has seen my affliction” (Gen. 29:32). Similarly, regarding the birth of Shimon she proclaimed, “‘Since G-d has heard…He gave me this one too. So she named him Shimon” (ibid. 33).

This corresponds in an amazing way to what we wrote earlier about the spies departing for the Land of Israel on the eve of Tammuz, such that their journey of forty days spanned from Tammuz to Tisha b’Av. About their departure in Tammuz, the month of sight, the Torah relates, “They…saw the Land, and they discouraged the children of Israel from crossing” (Num. 32:9). This spiritually damaged the faculty of sight. Similarly, about their return in Av, the month of hearing, the Torah relates that after making heard their evil report (ibid. 13:25-26), the entire community heard, raised their voices and shouted, and wept on that night (ibid. 14:1). This spiritually damaged the faculty of hearing.

What’s more, this adds an even deeper explanation to the significance of the 15th of Av as the conclusion of this difficult period and the turning point toward the repentance, rectification and pardon of Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And accordingly it explains a very enigmatic teaching of the Sages (Ta’anit 26a) regarding this day: On the 15th of Av the daughters of Jerusalem would dress in white and go out and dance among the vineyards, saying: “Young man, lift up your eyes to see, and don’t set your sight on physical beauty”.

The literal meaning of this teaching doesn’t seem to portray the most modest picture. Rather, allegorically, “the daughters of Jerusalem” refers to the Shechina, the Divine Presence. As a result of our abusing our sight and hearing in spiritually harmful ways, causing the destruction associated with Tammuz and Av, the Shechina has been dislocated from its abode, the Beit Hamikdash, and wanders afield. But after Tisha b’Av, the Shechina mercifully courts “the young man”, referring to the People of Israel, beckoning us to elevate our senses — to set our sights on G-d, and turn our ears towards hearing His word. This explanation of the otherwise puzzling teaching provides a natural flow into its otherwise non-sequitur conclusion, which speaks entirely of Mashiach, Redemption and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. May it be speedily in our days.

  • 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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