The Hebrew Months of Tamuz and Av for Beginners
Tonight, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture in Jerusalem delivered by Rabbi Chaim Richman. Rabbi Richman is the International Director of the Temple Institute and he’s spent the past 30 years raising worldwide consciousness about the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem. I want to share some of what he taught.
But wait! What if the Temple is utterly irrelevant to your understanding of Judaism? What if you were taught that there wouldn’t ever be a Third Temple and that’s why your synagogue is called Temple Beth Israel or Temple Sinai? What if you’ve never marked Tisha B’Av, widely believed to be the saddest, most mournful day on the Jewish calendar? What if you’ve never been taught about what the lack of a Holy Temple in Jerusalem really means?
If that’s you, then I hope you’ll keep reading, if only to satisfy your intellectual curiosity. If you do have a connection to Jerusalem, to the Kotel, to the Temple Mount and to Tisha B’Av, there’s certainly something here for you as well.
If you’re familiar with the Jewish calendar, you’re likely aware that each Hebrew month has a different energy. The month of Av, which falls each year around July-August, is associated with Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. Tisha B'Av is observed by, among other things, a full 25-hour fast and sitting low to the ground while reading Eicha, the Biblical Book of Lamentations, in a somber tune.
You may be less familiar with the fact that Tamuz, the month before Av, actually has a darker energy than the month of Av. The story of the 12 spies is told in Parshat Shelach from Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:1–15:41. The 12 spies left on their ill-fated mission to explore the Land of Israel in the month of Sivan and returned on the 9th of Av, which means that they were in Israel for the entire month of Tamuz. They spent the entire month of Tamuz gathering evidence and formulating the negative report about Israel that they ultimately delivered on the 9th of Av.
Ironically, the names of the Hebrew months are actually Babylonian in origin. Tamuz is the name of a pagan god. It’s the only month whose Babylonian name is mentioned in Tanach. Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 8:14 speaks about a pagan ceremony involving the idol known as Tamuz.
Av brings Tisha B’Av, which is not observed by most liberal Jews. On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the destruction of both the First and the Second Holy Temples that stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
That’s the traditional understanding.
But today, when so many End of Days prophecies are being fulfilled before our eyes, those who are waiting for the Third and permanent Holy Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem should be encouraged to mix their mourning with an awareness that we are closer than ever to actually seeing the Temple restored in Jerusalem.
You may wonder why Orthodox Jews are so fixated on a building. So I’ll tell you. It’s actually not about the building. It’s about what the building reflects.
Of the 613 mitzvot that God gave to the Jewish people, 202 of them are contingent on the existence of a Holy Temple in Jerusalem. That means that a third (more precisely, 32.95%) of all the commandments can only be fulfilled when the Jewish people have a Temple.
As Rabbi Richman explained, the Temple isn’t just a fancy building. It’s the tool by which the Jewish people can be transported to a different level of reality, to a more elevated relationship with God.
Since the destruction of the Second Temple 1,945 years ago, the Jewish people have not been connected to our Divinely-mandated responsibility. Here’s an experiment. Ask a few Jewish people if they think the Jewish people as a whole have a mandate. And if they think we do, ask them what it is.
Here’s what Rabbi Richman might answer -
The mission of the Jewish people is to demonstrate that there’s a God in the world, to remind all the inhabitants of the world that God exists. The Temple, in all its details, is the vehicle that allows God’s light to shine in the world.
Far from being irrelevant to Judaism, it’s possible to understand the Temple as one of the most important tools God gave the Jewish people to fulfill our mission in this world. It’s eventual reestablishment in Jerusalem will be a pinnacle of all of Jewish history.
Like a blind person who has never seen the color purple, most of us don’t even know what we’re missing because we’ve lived without a Temple for so long.
That alone is a good enough reason to mourn on Tisha B’Av.
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