The 17th of Tammuz: Where We Fail

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Five calamities occurred to our forefathers on the seventeenth of Tammuz. Moses descended [from Mt. Sinai with the tablets], he observed the people worshipping the Golden Calf and, 1) Moses broke the tablets. And it is written: “And it came to pass, as soon as he came near to the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing, and Moses’ anger burned, and he cast the tablets out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mount” (Exodus 32:19).  

Also on the seventeenth of Tammuz:

2) the city walls of Jerusalem were breached, 

3) Apostemos publicly burned a Torah scroll, 

4) Mennashe placed an idol in the Sanctuary, and 

5) the daily sacrifice ceased. (Taanis 28b).

Due to random variables, our life’s events have no pattern. Reflect on your car accidents, family birthdays, illnesses, career changes and stock fluctuations. Did these all occur on the 1st of the month? Like all events, they happened at unrelated chance moments. But these 5 tragedies deviated from nature law, all occurring on the same date. Concurring tragedies intend to awaken sinners that these events have an Orchestrator who disapproves of our lives. God is sending a message; He is punishing us for our sins. The message should be clear, but do we listen, and repent? As Temple is still not rebuilt, our flaws remain. But do we understand these 5 sins; do they share a common theme?

Moshe broke the tablets lest the Jews deify them as they deified the Gold Calf (Rabbi Israel Chait). The Jews veered from metaphysical God and sought religious expression through a lifeless, yet tangible Egyptian model. The holy city was breached; a city designated for worshipping God, but wherein the Jews failed at His worship and served idols. Our Torah was burned, idols were erected in Temple, and sacrifice halted. We abandoned God for idols, we left His worship, and we left His Torah. We will again fast and mourn for our degraded state until God once again takes prominence in our minds, in our hearts and in our lives. But this cannot occur without prioritization of Torah study and practice.

With what have we replaced God in our personal lives, that Temple remains in ruins? Do we chase money more than give charity? Do our egos expel God from our daily thoughts, fueling instead our obsession with man and the egoistic fires of lashon hara and dishonest business dealings? Have we abandoned Torah study as our primary activity and focus? These tragedies all underscore our abandonment of God and Torah study. Reversing these sins is how we can earn God’s providence and a renewed state for the Jewish people. 

One difficulty in repentance is that most Jews live in cultures that praise the antithesis of Torah values: wealth, fame and instinctual gratification. Man’s ego dominates his interests and speech. Man’s ego drives him to seek social acceptance. Society has become man’s ego ideal; man bends over backward for societal approval regardless of society’s base values. At the root of many of our sins, like wealth and fame, is the yearning for human recognition. But if we follow our great kings and rabbis who taught how precious and satisfying is Torah study, man would lose prominence in our eyes, we wouldn’t sacrifice all for wealth and fame, and we would be fully content exploring God’s wisdom. But as society doesn’t value Torah, from where will Jews learn the right path? It is up to our Torah teachers to correct our communities and individuals. So I ask rabbis, teachers and my dear friends dedicated to Torah to help others by multiplying your efforts teaching Torah and uncovering our sins. May God strengthen your efforts a hundredfold.