On the eve of the 17th of Tammuz:
Tonight we begin to mourn.
The sin of the spies, destruction of the Temples and expulsion from the Land of Israel, expulsions from lands not our own, inquisitions and pogroms, the holocaust, expulsion from gush katif, the capture of gilad, ehud and eldad, the second Lebanon war - throbbing wounds that refuse to heal and scar our collective heart and soul while we wince at the pain of fresh gashes.
It is no coincidence that all of these events occurred during the three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. It is no coincidence that the expulsion edict ordered the Jews be out of Spain by July 31st, 1492 (27th of Tamuz, 5252) nor that the Gregorian date the Israeli government arbitrarily chose for the destruction of Gush Katif no more than two summers ago happened to be the 9th of Av. It is not by chance that Eldad and Ehud were captured a year ago to the day.
Chazal tell us that spiritually, the height of summer is a dangerous time for the Jewish people. I’m not going to even pretend I know what that means. However, history has proved all too frequently that this is a time of sorrow and particular danger for us. And just when we want to enjoy our summer, we are told to behave otherwise. Just as Halacha provides a framework that separates the holiness of Shabbat from the rest of the days of the week, so to halacha lays out a code of conduct that separates the three weeks from the rest of the year.
The 17th of Tamuz marks the day in which the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem. Three weeks later the city of Jerusalem lay in ruin and the on the 9th of Av the second Temple like the first Temple before it was in flames. The Land spit us out.
On Yom ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim we celebrated our redemption, our triumphs and accomplishments. We marveled at the miracle of returning to our Land. We reveled in the heady joy of it all – the rebuilding of the Third Temple is tangible and lies just within our reach!
But today we mourn. We lament a leadership so corrupt and incompetent, a people seemingly apathetic to initiate change, enemies that bombard us from all sides. We bemoan our failure to truly unite as One People and our inability to behave as an am mamlechet kahonim and fulfill our destiny of being a nation that is an or la’goyim. We grieve our losses. We weep for bearing witness to the continual destruction the Second Temple.
We will no longer celebrate, dancing will stop, music will give way to silence. We will fast and pray, take account of our actions, remember the past and work to improve ourselves for the future.
Chazal have taught that the root of our problems lies with the sin of the spies in parashat shelach. Because the spies spoke about the Land of Israel in a way that frightened and distressed their fellow Jews and caused them to doubt their ability to conquer our inheritance, we were punished by wandering the wilderness for forty years. On “that night” the spies report caused Israel to cry out. “That night” was erev tisha b’av.
Perhaps the tikun, the remedy to repair our transgression lies in the same parasha. One may heed the words of Yehoshua and Calev – words as relevant today as ever:
“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it unto us--a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defense is removed from over them, and the LORD is with us; fear them not.” (bamidbar 14:7-9)
We must speak to our fellow Jew with love and care in a way that fills him with hope. We must treat each other kindly and inspire each other. We must always remember that G-d is with us and no matter what the difficulty we should not rebel against Hashem but walk in his ways, and trust in Him. It is only as a united people that we can overcome any threat. We are G-d’s chosen people. Hashem is with us.