On Sunday we commemorated the 17th of Tammuz, the day in which according to our tradition Moses broke the first set of tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved upon them. Centuries later, tradition has it that the 17th of Tammuz also coincided with the walls of Jerusalem crumbling down, during the Roman siege, which preceded the destruction of the Second Temple during the year 70 CE.
But what is the spiritual relevance of this day for us moderns today, in 5779/2019?
In order to understand that, we need to first realize that the Jewish holidays constitute the seasons of the soul. Many people let their feelings “run them”, and dictate their quality of life or lack thereof. In Jewish spirituality, we have the principal of מח שליט על הלב’ which means “the mind governs the heart.” We govern our hearts by connecting to a different season of the soul during each holiday season, or part of the Jewish annual cycle. For example, during Passover we connect to the season of political freedom, and during Purim we connect to the spiritual season of rejoicing by partying and feasting with worldly delights.
Last Sunday, with this minor fast day of the 17th of Tammuz, we started the spiritual season of mourning and lamentation. During the next three weeks, leading up to Tisha be’Av, our national mood will become melancholic and somber, as we ponder the tragedies of our historical fate, including the millions of souls who were brutally taken from us by genocide and persecution, and as we recall all the calamities and debacles of Jewish history.
For three weeks, we are be reading on Shabbats haftarahs/prophetic portions, which deal with prophetic rebukes of our ancestors who erred in their spiritual ways, thereby bringing about ruinous calamities upon themselves and their descendants.
After these three Shabbats of lamentations, culminating with Tisha be’Av, we will transition back to joy and gladness with seven consecutive Shabbats, during which we will be reading seven consecutives haftarahs/prophetic portions of jubilation and consolation, culminating after that with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches us that the breaking of the tablets by Moses, with the Ten Commandments, also symbolizes the breaking of “the tablets of the heart.” In other words, the coming three weeks are also about coming to grips with, and connecting to, internal spiritual brokenness of the self, and not only our collective national and historical fate and predicament.
Notice that it is not only the tablets that were broken on the 17th of Tammuz, but also the besieged walls of Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem represents in Kabbalistic consciousness unity and One-ness, as opposed to a constricted state of consciousness and inner fragmentation.
In order to rebuild and re-mend a broken heart and our broken consciousness, we need to first recognize that brokenness and feel it, get in touch with it and confront it head-on, as any good psychologist would confirm.
Yom Kippur, 11 and a half weeks from now or so, is the day in which according to our tradition, we received the second set of tablets with the Ten Commandments, and moved back to a state of a holistic and integrated self.
The sounds of the shofar, which we will be hearing this summer BH, during the month of Elul, also symbolize that brokenness which precedes integration, as the first sound of the shofar that we hear is that of Shevarim, a sound which is cut and broken into three distinct wailings, followed by the even deeper and more devastating brokenness of Tekiah – with no less than nine broken sounds. Finally, we will arrive on Yom Kippur at Tekiah Gedolah – the sustained utterance of integration and healing.
But the process starts today, in the lowliness of spiritual, emotional and political exile, alienation, and inner fragmentation. This cosmic reparative process is called by our sages in the Talmud “Yeridah le tzorech Aliyah,” (a descent for the sake of an ascent).
Each morning, every day of the year, Jews commence the morning service with Psalm 30, which powerfully captures this cosmic emotive and spiritual principal of a “descent for the sake of an ascent”, as the psalm reads: “You [the Almighty] transformed my own eulogy into a dance, you opened my mourning sackcloth and empowered me with joy (Simcha),” so that I may dwell in an enhanced state of increased awareness, and overflowing gratitude.
When we pray in the Amidah every morning for the Almighty to gather in the scattered members of his people Israel, and place them back home (“Mekabetz nidhey Amo Yisrael”), we also pray for internal cohesion, and for the re-integration of all the disparate fundamental facets of the self and the soul – the emotive, the spiritual, the mental, the physical and the social. It is up to us to dive inward, and commence the laborious journey of re-juxtaposing the broken fragments of our Being, which include – according to the Kabbalistic cosmology of Rabbi Isaac Luria – also the broken fragments of Divinity itself, the Reshimo – the worldly residues of the Shechinah, which are scattered all around the world, waiting for us, waiting to be redeemed by ennobling acts of humanistic benevolence and spiritual grandeur. Have a good season of soulful introspection.