From the Mountaintop of the Sinai
The 4th Month on the Jewish Calendar Tammuz Part One From the Mountaintop of the Sinai Experience to Babylon And the Descent to the Depths of the Valley
Part of an Ongoing Series entitled Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface
By:Elisheva Tavor aka Betty Tabor Givin
All of the months are interrelated each connecting to the next in the cycle of the seasons, the ‘round’ of the year…set up by the Creator from the beginning for our benefit to make up what we call time…each is significant to the whole…and each carries within it a special spark that lies hidden beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered…to connect us deeper to Him. This month with its abominable name and its dark history, although challenging is no exception! We just have to dig deeper to find the sparks!
It is easy to see HaShem in the dramatic fire of Sinai, but it is a whole other level of maturity to see Him in the midst of difficult circumstances when we feel the darkness encompassing round about us. This has been the prevailing mood in the hearts and minds of many a Jew throughout history when it comes to this month. So let us educate ourselves and rise to meet whatever challenges we face this coming month.
The Origin of the Name Speaking of this 4th month Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller in an article on aish.com entitled Tammuz: Forces of Nature says this: “This month is named after the ancient Babylonian sun god (Ezekiel 8:14). I can’t say that if I were selecting names for Jewish months that this is the first one that would have come to mind. In fact, it seems the opposite of what the entire concept the Hebrew calendar is about. Each month offers us the opportunity for growth and renewal. Idol worship is pagan and limiting. Invoking the name of a central figure in a cult that worshipped the sun as the source of all energy seems somehow retrogressive. (Tammuz: Forces of Nature; aish.com)
My choice of words would be a bit stronger here. The Prophet Ezekiel calls the worship of this idolatrous god abominable when HaShem shows him the chilling vision of the wicked abominations being committed…first of the elders of the House of Israel burning incense in the dark and saying, “HaShem sees us not; HaShem has forsaken the land; “and then the women sitting in the Holy Temple weeping over Tammuz followed by more of the men with their backs toward the temple prostrating themselves before the sun! (Ezekiel 8:11-16)
This pagan god they were worshipping was originally a Sumerian sun-god, called Dumuzu and was the husband of Ishtar who corresponds to Aphrodite of the Greeks, the Queen of Heaven and had made its way into Babylon. Considering the disgraceful and licentious rites with which the cult was celebrated, it is no wonder that Ezekiel should have taken this vision of the men committing their abominable acts and the women weeping for Tammuz in the temple as one of the greatest abominations that could defile the Holy House.
Why a Babylonian god’s name on the Jewish Calendar?
How did the name of this Babylonian god find its way into the Jewish calendar? The Jerusalem Talmud tells us it “came up (to Israel) with (the returnees) from Babylon, “in approximately 350 BCE. (Rosh Hashanah 1:2)
Knowing its origin the question becomes why after returning from Babylon did the Jews continue using the name of this pagan god instead of following the original Biblical system of the 1st month, the 2nd month, the 3rd month, the 4th month, etc.?
Rabbi Menachem Posner in an article on Chabad.org entitled, “Why Babylonian Names for Jewish Months,” states that Nachmanides suggests that it is to help us remember that HaShem brought us out of Babylon. He references verses from the prophet Jeremiah (Jer.16:14) which read “Therefore, behold days are coming says HaShem when it shall no more be said, As HaShem lives that brought the children of Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, but, as HaShem lives, that brought up the children of Yisrael from the land of the north…” which he refers to as Babylon.
It appears that this event is also a reference to a larger more widespread future redemption; for the remainder of the verse includes deliverance not only from the land of the north (Babylon), but also deliverance “from all the lands into which He had driven them…and concludes with a promise that He “would bring them back into their land that He gave to their fathers.” This same passage is repeated almost word for word a few chapters later in Jeremiah 23:7.
The article by Rabbi Posner goes on to suggest that by using the original numeric ordering system for the months with Nissan being the 1st month and all of the succeeding months to follow, we are recalling how many months since the Exodus from Egypt but we need also to remember our deliverance from Babylon. When we were delivered from captivity we started using the names that we became used to using while there. And now, he says “these names served to remind us that G-d has redeemed us from this second exile.”
Certainly we would need to remember the deliverance from the Babylonian exile, but do we also not need to look forward to a future redemption as spoken of in these passages in Jeremiah and all through the prophetic writings? And do we need to name a month after a pagan god in order to remember our deliverance? HaShem warns through His prophet Moshe that we should not even allow the name of a pagan god to pass our lips. “Regarding everything that I have said to you, be careful. The name of the gods of others you shall not mention nor shall it be heard through your mouth.” (Exodus 23:13) HaShem is a jealous G-d; we are to have no other gods before Him!
Why Babylonian Captivity? To see things as they really are we first need to ask why Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity in the first place. Reading through the prophets, the answer is clear. The people of the land were steeped in idolatry and refused to listen to the warnings to return to G-d. Sadly all these repeated warnings fell on deaf ears…first the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into Assyrian captivity and dispersed. Subsequently less than 200 years later the Southern kingdom of Judah not having learned from her sister Israel’s demise was also taken away…taken to Babylon, a place where idolatry was rampant. In the heartbreaking words of the weeping prophet Jeremiah, we read, “and yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not returned unto Me with her whole heart, but in pretense, saith HaShem,” backsliding Israel hath proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.”( Jer 3:10-11).
Events Associated with This Month – Five Destructive ElementsThere are many events recorded in Jewish tradition and history that occurred during this month, but there are five major ones that stand out. (1) 1st Tablets were broken as a result of the Golden Calf Incident (2) Jerusalem Walls were breached on17th Tammuz (3) Romans placed an idol in the Holy Temple (4) Daily offerings could no longer continue (5)The Romans burned a Torah scroll. Given these horrific events, Rebbetzin Heller referenced in her article above asks a question, “Does this mean that the month of Tammuz is a “bad month? “ She says no but refers to it as “a month of challenge and confrontation. Without challenge, there is no growth. Without confrontation, there is no way to see things as they are.”
Is it possible that part of the reason for all these tragic events associated with this 4th month down through history is due to the fact that instead of putting Babylon behind them when they were freed and allowed to return to their own land, that the people took the name of the Babylonian god with them…and the repercussions of this have affected us even up to the present? We may never know, but it is certainly a question to consider and then to confront whatever challenges may arise.
Meeting the Challenge of the Month I propose that we concentrate on the present for that is really all that we in actuality have; but as we start here with the present let us keep in mind the history of the tragic events of this month so that we can learn from them; but let us also look ahead to the promise of the future and all the while be aware of just Who is in charge.
Each person on our planet was created with a uniqueness all our own, a thumbprint so to speak unlike any other. Each was created in the image of HaShem our G-d and Creator, the One and Only G-d above all gods! We each have a ‘spark’ a little ‘piece’ of the Divine within that connects us to the Creator, our Source.
I would like to propose a challenge, one that will help to fortify us for the coming month so that we can stand strong and resolute…Nitzavim! Nitzavim – from Devarim/Deuteronomy 29 describes how the Children of Israel stood before HaShem at Mt. Sinai. The meaning of this word was vividly demonstrated to me by the reaction of 6’4” Uri Ben Ari, a secular Jew and head of the American sector of a large Israeli cosmetic company that I worked for a number of years ago. When I told Mr. Ben Ari that Nitzavim was the Torah portion being read in synagogues the week of my conversion, he abruptly arose from his casual sitting position and stood upright, straight and tall…all 6’4” inches of him, and said, “Nitzavim! Nitzavim! Stand tall, stand firm!!! That is the message to you, Betty…to all of us… that is what we must do!”
Yes, stand firm! Know Before Whom We Stand! These words are often inscribed above the Ark containing the Torah in the synagogues. These are beautiful words, but how do we practically live them out day by day?
The First Step Come home…come home to yourself, come home to who you are, to your true essence, your authentic self…not the self you perceive or desire others to see, but the self that HaShem sees, the self that He created you to be…
In the words of Devarim 4:39, we find the riveting words, “Know today and return it to your hearts that HaShem He is G-d!” If we are instructed to “return it to our hearts,” the implication is that it was once in our hearts, correct? So was it in utero as the sages suggest? We know that when HaShem created us, He placed a pure soul within us, a spirit that will one day return to Him. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
One of the long established tenets of Judaism is that we answer a question with a question, so let’s ask. How do we “come home” to the pure soul that HaShem created us to be? How do we “return “that concept to our hearts? What does it entail?
One of my longtime favorite concepts that HaShem placed in my head long before I knew anything about Torah is the term G-d Consciousness. I truly believe that this is the key to not only knowing HaShem, but to knowing ourselves…to becoming transparent before Him. But how to we get to that place where we have that Divine Consciousness, where we bring Him into every aspect of our lives and are transparent before HaShem? If we bring it down a level, how do we get to know another human being? If I wanted to get to know you, what would you suggest that I do?
Spend time with you, listen to you, and learn what is important to you…what makes you happy, what hurts you, what you like to do, etc. This is communication, right? And communication goes both ways. So how do we carry on this communication with our Creator?
First, we have to get to Know Him and in knowing Him, acknowledge His Oneness. One way is through reading His Word and letting it penetrate into our hearts, our minds, our souls…and taking these words with us throughout the day and praying with King David, “Open my eyes HaShem that I may behold wondrous things in your Torah.” (Psa 119:18) When we study Torah, HaShem talks to us.
When we meditate and pray, we talk to HaShem. Rav Dror says that when we pray, we need to talk to HaShem like we talk to our best friend…we open ourselves up…we become transparent…we bare our souls so to speak before Him, but He already knows us through and through…so what is the purpose really of prayer, of meditation? It is to draw us out of ourselves and our perception of who we are and to help us come to grips with our true selves, so that we can be honest and humble as we walk before Him. (Micah 6:8)
It is to bring us to that “Secret Place,” under the Wings of the Almighty, the place described so eloquently in Psalm 91, where in the midst of darkness and distress, we can know with full assurance that He is there with because we have given ourselves to Him and are devekut (stuck like glue), bonded to Him. He is our Protector, but He is also our Assurance and our Mainstay (from the Weekday Amidah or Standing Prayer found in the siddur, the Jewish prayer book).
We each have our own “secret place,” not a physical place, but a spiritual place deep inside ourselves, a place where Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls the place “ where Heaven and Earth touch, “that special place where we can communicate with our Creator, the place where our spark is once again reignited, rekindled as we connect with Him. My secret place is not the same as yours, nor yours the same as mine. But when we are there, we are home. The world around us may be in turmoil, but we are at peace.
But how do we maintain this when the storms hit? We stay in Torah and wrap our days in prayer…as if we are wrapping ourselves in a giant tallit, in His tallit, His covering and being protected beneath the Shadow of His Wings! We invite Him into our lives…beginning in the morning light and continuing through the day, ending with the Bedtime Shema at night. As the darkness encompasses us we are not afraid for we know He is with us.
Seeing in the Dark –Transforming the Darkness into Light
Kabbalah teaches that each month of the Jewish year has a Hebrew letter as its counterpart .This 4th month named after the Babylonian sun god has as its counterpart, the letter chet and has the concept sight associated with it. To find out the significance, we look at the first place this letter is found in the Torah. We find it in the first few verses and see that it is associated with the word chochech, darkness. Given the name of this month and the tragic historical events associated with it, is it any wonder? Yet notice what comes after the darkness…
In Beresheit 1:1 we read, “ In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was void and without form and darkness/ chochech was on the face of the deep. And a wind from Elokim moved over the surface of the waters. And Elokim said, Let there be light and there was light. And Elokim saw the light that it was good, and Elokim separated the light from the darkness. And Elokim called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”
The light always follows the darkness! Question…was Light existent before HaShem spoke it into being? Yes of course, for HaShem is Light and He always existed… He was just hidden… a concept brought out so beautifully in the poignant lyrics of the-well known song, Adon Olam. This is a crucial lesson for us as darkness and light are a part of each day. HaShem is our light, even in the darkness! “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”(Psalm 119:16)
In the poetic words of King David beginning in Psalm 6:7 and continuing through verse 10 we read, “I am weary with groaning all the night. I make my bed to swim. I water my couch with my tears”…”yet HaShem has heard my weeping, He receives my prayers!” King David had found the “secret place” to meet with His Creator. I believe he knew that darkness is really only an illusion. It is merely the absence of light…the Light is there, it is just hidden…
We must learn to SEE in the DARK…past the darkness! The question is how? How do we do that? We do that by maintaining that G-d Consciousness which helps us to keep in mind that in the midst of the darkest night there is the promise of the coming of each new morning; and with the morning, the light will reappear!
HaShem said that “it is not good for man to be alone.” He placed us in families and provides us with friends and communities for a reason. By acknowledging that His light is there, we can let it light up the darkness around us. With just one little spark coming from one little candle we can light up a whole room! When my world is dark you can bring in your light and it will shine and light up my darkness; and when your world is dark, I can do the same for you…and together with the help of HaShem we can light up the entire world!
It is easy to see HaShem in the dramatic fire of Sinai, but it is a whole other level of maturity to see Him in the darkness! This is our challenge for the upcoming months…the 4th month and the 5th month…the saddest two months in Jewish history…
So let us hold hands and strive together and encourage one another to learn to see in the dark, to delve deep and discover those “hidden sparks beneath the surface” so that even the slightest sliver of good becomes visible to us in the midst of the darkness; and we through the help of HaShem can lean on one another and have the strength to rise and shine and transform the darkness that has characterized this month through the ages into light!