Rosh Hodesh Tamuz Torah Essay
It seems that the month of Tamuz is one with little to look forward to. While it’s true that for many children, Tamuz brings with it summer, camp, and a sense of freedom, in the Jewish calendar there are no holidays. In fact, on the 17th of Tamuz we begin an intensive 3-week mourning period that culminates with Tisha Bav. But even Av, with its infamous fast day has Tu’Bav and the haftorot of comfort to help elevate it. Tamuz seems to be the month destined solely to usher in sadness.
Perhaps, there is more to the month than meets the eye. The Mishna in Taanit records 5 tragedies that happened on the 17th of Tamuz: Moshe broke the first set of luchot, the daily karbanot were stopped in the 1st Beit Hamikdash, Apustamus burned a Torah scroll, an idol was brought into the 2nd Beit Hamikdash, and the wall of Jerusalem is breached by the Romans, shortly before the destruction of 2nd Beit HaMikdash.
The first event, Moshe breaking the luchot, comes as he discovers that the Jews created a golden calf in the camp.
וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֶךְ רֵד כִּי שִׁחֵת עַמְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם(שמות לב:ז)
Why does Hashem tell Moshe to go down to the people only after they have committed the sin? Why not tell Moshe as soon as the people begin to panic regarding his seemingly delayed return? Rabbi Eliyahו Kitov offers one possible answer to this question. He suggests that by not intervening and preventing the people from sinning, G-d is creating the possibility for teshuva for future generations. If the generation of Har Sinai, who communed directly with G-d was able to sin, but then do Teshuva, then of course the possibility exists for us as well.
This idea is echoed in the haftorah for Parshat Masei, the second of the three haftorot of destruction that we read between the 17th of Tamuz, and the 9th of Av. In the haftorah, Yirmiyahu is criticizing the people for two related transgressions. Not only did the reject Hashem, but they also chose new gods for themselves. In Yirmiyahu 2:8 the prophet rebukes the people and the leaders.
הַכֹּהֲנִים לֹא אָמְרוּ אַיֵּה יְהֹוָה וְתֹפְשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה לֹא יְדָעוּנִי וְהָרֹעִים פָּשְׁעוּ בִי וְהַנְּבִאִים נִבְּאוּ בַבַּעַל וְאַחֲרֵי לֹא יוֹעִלוּ הָלָכוּ
The term tofsei hatorah is a strange one that some mifarshim explain to mean Torah educators. When looking in the Parsha, we see the same word tofsei used when discussing the division of spoils during war
וְחָצִיתָ אֶת הַמַּלְקוֹחַ בֵּין תֹּפְשֵׂי הַמִּלְחָמָה הַיֹּצְאִים לַצָּבָא וּבֵין כׇּל הָעֵדה(במדבר לא:כז)
The phrase here, tofsei hamilchama, literally means the ones who conquered war. The pasuk explains further that they are the ones who went out to battle. So why is Yirmiyahu drawing our attention to the tofsei hamilchama in his rebuke of the leaders? Maybe Yirmiyahu is calling the teachers tofsei hatorah, because like warriors, they conquered the Torah for themselves. But unlike the halakha in Parshat Masei dictates, they did not split the Torah with their students. In order for Torah to be passed down, the student needs to struggle with it and claim it for their own. When the teacher does not allow the student to be involved in the highs and lows of the process, they are preventing the next generation from building its own connection to the Torah and Hashem.
Had Hashem prevented Chait HaEgel, the Jews would not have earned Israel on their own. They would not have gone through the process necessary to own their relationship with G-d as free people. Perhaps the message of Tamuz is that we need to go through the process of mourning completely to allow ourselves ownership of the destruction. It is a time for us to reflect on what role we play in the continued exile. But we also remember that Hashem told Moshe to go down to the people, and that in the breaking of the luchot, Moshe sets into play the process of teshuva. B’ezrat Hashem as we work to see our responsibility in this process, in the stage of destruction, we can also work towards the part of the process that is teshuva and redemption. As the Sephardi and some Chassidic communities conclude the haftorah,
אִם תָּשׁוּב יִשְׂרָאֵל נְאֻם יְהֹוָה אֵלַי תָּשׁוּב וְאִם תָּסִיר שִׁקּוּצֶיךָ מִפָּנַי וְלֹא תָנוּד וְנִשְׁבַּעְתָּ חַי יְהֹוָה בֶּאֱמֶת בְּמִשְׁפָּט וּבִצְדָקָה וְהִתְבָּרְכוּ בוֹ גּוֹיִם וּבוֹ יִתְהַלָּלוּ (ירמיהו ד:א-ב)
No matter how total the destruction seems, when it comes to our relationship with G-d, there is always the possibility of return. May we be zoche to see the ultimate redemption speedily in our days.