Tzom Shiva Asar b'Tamuz Observed
Today begins the Three Weeks - 17 Tamuz until 9 Av - when we mourn the major tragedies which have befallen our nation over millenia. On 17 Tamuz the walls of Yerushalayim were breached. It was the beginning of the end when three weeks later the Holy Temple would be set afire and destroyed. There are many books and websites you can look up which will list for you all the tragedies which followed over the course of the centuries, but the Temple's destruction - twice! - was the worst of all, not just for the Jews, but for all the people of the world.
However, this blog post is not concerned with that subject today. What I feel heavily on my heart this morning is The Reason why these terrible things have occurred on these dates. Because, events on this scale don't occur in a vacuum without any discernible cause. Something set these dates aside for suffering on a grand scale and that "something" was (and still is) rooted in our own hearts and minds. Let's pull it out, identify it and deal with it, so we can hopefully move on past the suffering to reach the joy at The End of Days.
The Root of All Suffering - Lack of Faith and Trust in HKB"H
It goes all the way back to the first sin in Gan Eden. The Satan introduced doubt in Chavah's mind: "Did God indeed say....?" Then he proceeded to capture her heart by explaining to Chavah that God actually had nefarious motives for denying them the experience of the Eitz Da'at Tov v'Ra: "For God knows that on the day that you eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil."
The Satan called into question God's truthfulness, integrity and reliability, thereby undermining Chavah's faith and trust in HKB"H. The shifting of her faith and trust over to the words of the Satan was a criminal act of disloyalty and rebellion against the Sovereign of the Universe.
Yes, I think it's possible to say that this was a loyalty test imposed by HKB"H - just as His demand that Avraham Avinu offer up his only son Yitzchak was a loyalty test: "...for now I know that you are a God-fearing man...." (Perhaps it's even possible to say that all ten of Avraham Avinu's tests were testing his loyalty to HKB"H by degrees until the final, ultimate test.)
Ok, so now maybe you are wondering how this all adds up to these days - 17 Tamuz until 9 Av. The Children of Israel also needed to prove their loyalty to HKB"H. It was intended that they be tested in the wilderness, but instead they tested HKB"H's patience with their doubt about His good intentions for their future: "Is God with us or not? Why did he bring us out of Egypt to let us die in this wilderness?" The constant complaints stemmed from their nagging doubts about HKB"H's motives for bringing them out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Despite all that they had seen of the miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea, still they questioned His truthfulness, integrity and reliability.
The worship of the Golden Calf on 17 Tamuz and the decision to forego entrance into Eretz Yisrael on 9 Av were tantamount to eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. They were criminal acts of disloyalty and rebellion against the authority of the Sovereign of the Universe. These decisions arose out of doubt in the mind and a loss of faith in the heart. They did not trust HKB"H to fulfill His word or even to have their best interests foremost.
These crimes of doubt, lack of faith, and absence of trust in HKB"H's goodness, truthfulness, trustworthiness and reliability are at the root of all our suffering. The recognition of this fact is the beginning of all real teshuvah...
"Our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, may our prayers come before You, and do not turn away from our supplication, for we are not so brazen and obstinate as to declare before You, Lord our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, that we are righteous and have not sinned. Indeed, we and our fathers have sinned."
"...We have turned away from Your commandments and from Your good laws but to no avail. But You are righteous in all that has come upon us, for You have acted truthfully while we have caused wickedness." (From the Vidui prayers)
Say it! We were wrong about You, Hashem. The fault is all ours. You meant only good for us. We doubted you. It is our failure, not Yours. Please, forgive us!
The Final Test of Loyalty is coming. Prepare for it while there is still time. And may we all be successful! Then these days - 17 Tamuz until 9 Av - will turn to days of rejoicing. Ken, yehi ratzon!