17th of Taamuz – A Tough Nut to Crack Connecting 5 tragedies which occurred

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    17th of Taamuz – A Tough Nut to Crack:

    ויקרא אהרן ויאמר חג לה’ מחר

    Aharon called out and said, “A festival to Hashem tomorrow” (Shemos 32:5).

    When the people mistakenly assumed that Moshe should have already returned after 40 days, they clamored for an idol to take his place. Aharon proclaimed, “Chag LaShem machar – A festival to Hashem tomorrow.” The day to which Aharon referred, the 17th of Tammuz, did not become a holiday. In fact, the opposite occurred; when Moshe broke the Luchos upon his descent, it became a day of tragedy. The breaking of the Luchos was the first in a series of five calamities that occurred on Shivah Asar B’Tammuz.

    It says in the Mishnah (Taanis 4:6), “Chamishah devarim ir’u es avoseinu be’Shivah Asar B’Tammuz va’chamishah be’Tishah B’Av. Be’Shivah Asar B’Tammuz nishtabru haLuchos u’vatel hatamid ve’huvke’ah ha’ir ve’saraf Apostomos es haTorah ve’he’emid tzelem be’Heichal – Five things occurred to our fathers on Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and five on Tishah B’Av. On Shivah Asar B’Tammuz: the Luchos were broken, the korban tamid was abolished, the wall of the city of Yerushalayim was breached, Apostomos burned the Torah, and he [Menashe, in the time of the first Beis HaMikdash] erected an idol in the Sanctuary.”

    Is there a common thread that binds these tragic occurrences and gives us something to reflect upon?

    Many years ago, I found a novel connection of all five events, which changes our view of Shivah Asar B’Tammuz: from a mere day of commemoration to a relevant challenge for all of us – to learn from our history and improve our actions.

    Take a whole nut. It is surrounded by its shell. As long as the shell remains, the nut cannot be damaged. This is because its outer shell is custom-made to protect the fruit within. Even once you break the shell, nothing happens to the nut. It is still intact and as perfect as it was before. Nonetheless, now that its shield is gone, the nut is vulnerable to damage.

    The events that occurred on that day parallel the nut and its shell. In all five cases, the ikar, the item of supreme value, was still intact or functioning but was now subject to attack and destruction, damage or corruption.

    In Zechariah (8:19), the navi refers to Shivah Asar B’Tammuz as the tzom harevi’i, the fast of the fourth month, since it takes place in the fourth month from Nissan. In this verse, it is included with the other fasts pertaining to the Churban, because in the time of the second Beis HaMikdash on this day: “huvke’ah ha’ir – the protective wall of the city of Jerusalem was breached.”

    Still, the enemy had not taken its prize. The Beis HaMikdash was still functioning, and the avodah, the service, continued. However, the protective shell was gone. With the enemy in the city, the Temple was at risk. The Jews had to develop a new strategy since their defenses had been penetrated. This constituted an attack on the shell, but not the nut.

    Also on the 17th of Tammuz, Apostomos burned a Sefer Torah. This occurred during the time of the second Beis HaMikdash, when the Greeks ruled over the Jews in Israel. Although this was appalling, why was it considered a national tragedy? Was this the first time a Torah was destroyed? According to the Tiferes Yisrael on this Mishnah, this was the Torah of Ezra HaSofer, which the Yidden used to check the accuracy of every other Sefer Torah. As long as this uncontested, established Sefer Torah existed, the accuracy of all other Sifrei Torah was protected and assured. But with its destruction, errors could now creep in.

    This, too, was not an attack on the ultimate, but on what afforded it protection. The Yidden still had Torah. And they still had other Sifrei Torah. But now mistakes could occur. The other Sifrei Torah the Jews had in their possession were no longer impervious to error. Another attack on the shell, but not the nut.

    The first tragedy of this day was the breaking of the Luchos when the Jews sinned with the Eigel. This, too, was not a total attack on Torah. After all, they were given a second set of Tablets soon after. But a consequence of this action was that now there was shikchas haTorah, the possibility of forgetting Torah – which had not existed until that time – with the accompanying possibility of mistakes and arguments. The Gemara (Eiruvin 54a) quotes Rabbi Eliezer, who says that if the first set of Luchos would not have been broken, the Torah would never have been forgotten in Israel.

    With the breaking of the Luchos, Klal Yisrael lost the protection that constant recall ensures. The Torah, the nut, was still whole but its protection was gone.

    Toward the end of the first Beis HaMikdash, when Yerushalayim was under siege and there were no more sheep to sacrifice, the korban tamid was abolished on Shivah Asar B’Tammuz. This brought even closer the prospect of the Jews going into galus.

    The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 51:7) writes that Avraham was told that as long as korbanos are brought, his descendants would be saved from going into exile. When the tamid ceased, the possibility of galus became more of a reality. The Jews did not go to galus the next day, but the firewall of the korbanos to keep them out of galus no longer existed. The Jews had to take note that their spiritual defenses were down. This, again, was an attack on the defenses, the shell.

    The last calamity mentioned in the Mishnah was the idol erected by Menashe in the Sanctuary, during the time of the first Beis HaMikdash. Here, too, the Jews were still in Eretz Yisrael and they still had the Beis HaMikdash, but this tragedy was another indication that the end was nigh.

    The point of the Mishnah is not that they served this idol, but that they had the audacity to bring the Shechinah’s “competition” into His Sanctuary. This fact alone – that an idol could be allowed into the holy Beis HaMikdash – was a demonstration that nothing was sacred anymore and every type of iniquity was permitted. Consequently, the special protection, which usually comes in the merit of sanctity, was no longer. Another cracked shell.

    As we see, all five calamities that took place on this day were occurrences where the nut was still intact but the shell had been cracked.

    But what of the proclamation of Aharon, in which he referred to this day as a chag, a festival? Was there no truth to his words? Was he just hoping that everything would work out?

    The tragedies of the 17th of Tammuz represented an attack on the defenses; each was a wake-up call. There never had to be a Ninth of Av (the day in which the Temple was destroyed) after the 17th of Tammuz. Klal Yisrael could have changed the situation by doing teshuvah.

    In our day and age, we are tasked to break the cycle and not let history repeat itself.

    In the words of the Arizal: “Yeish machar mi’yad ve’yeish machar le’achar zman – There is an immediate tomorrow, and a tomorrow in the future.” When Aharon said, “Chag laShem machar,” he was referring to machar, tomorrow, but to a tomorrow that has not yet taken place.

    There will come a time when we heed the message of the 17th and break the cycle. And just as the Ninth will be a Yom Tov (see Rosh Hashanah 18b, on the pasuk in Zechariah quoted above), so, too, the 17th.

    Chag laShem machar.

    Reb Eliezer

    It says that vesartem min haderech vaavadtem elohim acherim, says Chasam Sofer that turning off the walked on road, our mesorah and protectiion, leads to the worshipping of strange gods.


    July 4, 1776 was Shiva Assar B’Tammuz

    Reb Eliezer

    The Yerushalmi in Taanis says that the letters kept the luchas light to be able to carry. The letters flew off, so it became so heavy that Moshe Rabbenu could not carry it and he drop it. This seems to argue with the Bavli where Hashem commended him that he drop it. Maybe, there is a proof to the Yerushalmi. It is written as dropped from one hand but read as both hands. He was holding it in one hand but when it became heavy, he held it with both hands but it was too heavy to be able to hold it.


    Do Sfardim also refrain from hair cutting before 9 days?


    Dear Reb Eliezer,
    The Yerushalmi is about the meaning of the Luchos. The Bavli is on Moshe’s reasoning.

    Reb Eliezer

    n0mesorah. thanks, what you are saying is that Moshe Rabbenu is being commended by Hashem from his endeavor even though he had no choice but to drop it.

    Reb Eliezer

    should be above, for his endeavor.


    I was not thinking that way. But it is the same answer.

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