The Sara Litton z"l Monthly Emunah Essay | The Month of Tammuz and Missing the Mark - Matan - The Sadie Rennert
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The Sara Litton z”l Monthly Emunah Essay | The Month of Tammuz and Missing the Mark

Adina Ellis

Oh, how often we miss the mark. A misstep, an error, once again, we’ve gone off course from our ideals. This is the meaning of the word חטא (chet). When translated as sin, the deeper meaning of the word is lost. Imagine playing a game of darts, where you aim for the center bullseye, or other smaller, harder to hit segments on the dartboard. Landing on any of these is a cause for celebration, you’ve landed right on target. However, when we err and go off course, intentional or not, we are moving away from our goal. A chet, or missing the mark has occurred. In religious life, this means moving farther away from Hakadosh Baruch Hu (see Tehillim 16:8), from our focus to “direct one’s gaze and aspiration” in pure service of God (Mesillat Yesharim, chapter 1). The eighth letter of the alphabet, chet, is associated with the month of Tammuz (Sefer Yetzirah) and can be understood as representing this all too familiar part of life. Try as we may, we inevitably falter and go off target.

We use our sight, the sense linked with Tammuz (Sefer Yetzirah), the most utilized of the senses, to help us stay on course and by the same token it is straying after our eyes which can be the greatest stumbling block (Bamidbar 15:39). When the spies were sent to explore the land of Canaan, they left on the 29th of Sivan and returned with their report on the 9th of Av. This means that during the entire month of Tammuz, there was the potential to use the sense of sight for positive or negative. As we may recall, on the fateful day in Av, ten of the twelve leaders sent on the expedition reported back, saying “And there we saw…we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes!” (Bamidbar 13:33).

Our eyes seemingly observe an objective reality, but the Torah is teaching us that we are always interpreting our observations, sometimes gravely misconstruing the meaning of what we perceive based on our own internal bias.  Eye witness testimonies are often shockingly inaccurate (Why Science Tells Us Not to Rely on Eyewitness Accounts – Scientific American), we might misinterpret the situation, add negative meaning or connotation, or miss the greater context of what is happening. The ten spies had the potential to see the same sights and interpret them differently.

Thirty eight years later, this was the case when the tribe of Reuven and Gad used their sight to observe the green lush landscape east of the Jordan and  deduce that it would be the ideal place to settle with their cattle. “They saw the land…it is a land for livestock…” (Bamidbar 32:1-4). Moshe’s response to Reuven and Gad seems to be fear of a repeat experience of the sin of the spies, where “faulty vision” focuses on a single aspect and potentially wreaks havoc. Moshe reminds this next generation that “this is what your fathers did…they saw the Land and dissuaded the heart of Bnei Yisrael…” (Bamidbar 32:8. Therefore, in a fitting response, measure for measure, for poor use of their vision, God deemed the previous generation would not merit to see the Land of Israel (v.11) and describes this shortsighted request as תַּרְבּוּת אֲנָשִׁים חַטָּאִים – the next generation of individuals who once again miss the mark.

So too, Reuven, the eldest of all of the sons of Yaakov corresponds to Tammuz (Bnei Yissachar). He was the son who so often tried, and so often missed the mark. In Chumash we learn of his many unsuccessful attempts at leadership including his questionable behavior with Bilhah, directing the brothers to throw Yosef into the pit, and attempting to alleviate his father’s concerns about sending Binyamin down to Mitzrayim by offering his own two sons as compensation (Bereishit 37:21-22, 42:37, 49:4). As Nechama Price writes: “Considering the landscape of Reuven’s life, one observes the tragedy of a man who never aligns his vision with reality.” (Tribal Blueprints)

We rely so heavily on our sight and often don’t pause to wonder how we are processing what we observe or if our actions truly suit the situation. How we see ourselves will greatly affect how we see others. Are we seeking to find the good in others and in any given situation or are we honing in on the negative and what is lacking? As people with emunah we are called upon to use our sight to find Godliness in the world, and constantly fine tune our aim. Certainly no one is inculpable, we all have moments of chet, where we lose focus on our goals or misinterpret a situation, suffer from shortsightedness, selfishness, an inflated ego or low self esteem. Nevertheless, the month of Tammuz invites us to question, do a personal check-in and inquire within ourselves- are we on target or have we missed the mark?

Adina Ellis

Adina Ellis

is a graduate of the Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute. She has been teaching Tanakh and machshava over the last two decades, initially on college campuses and in Hebrew Schools in the New Jersey area. Since making aliyah in 2005, she has given weekly shiurim in Hebrew and English to women in her community. Adina has taught in the ALIT program and Rosh Chodesh seminars run by the OU Women's Initiative as well as in the mother-daughter "learn and art" program of OU Israel. She is known for her unique ability to facilitate in-depth textual learning along with engaging and relevant discussions. Adina lives with her husband and children in Yad Binyamin.