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11 Tammuz 5764 - June 30, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
A Proposal for Shiva Ossor BeTammuz

by Rabbi Adam A. Winston

We have come to live with 17th of Tammuz as an inescapable part of our reality. We may have even gotten used to the fast and the Three Weeks as a part of our lives. It's not just the fast and the Churban, but all the tragedies that were brought on by that day.

At the giving of the Torah on Shavuos -- forty days earlier -- we had achieved immortality as part of our heightened spiritual status. No death, pogroms or even difficulties of a lesser order. On Shiva Ossor BeTammuz, lest we forget, death, pain and suffering returned.

We ask, "How could we make such a tragic, foolish mistake? Moshe Rabbenu had only been delayed one day. How could we forget that G-d had just spoken to us on Mt. Sinai? Could we so quickly forget the Plagues in Egypt? The splitting of the Red Sea? Where was our emunah?"

Lest we become too sanctimonious, we must remember a key fact: "Every Jew who was or will be was at Mt. Sinai." It was our act, our people. It was not "They" who made the Golden Calf, it was "We." We should also remember that, "If the Beis Hamikdosh was not built in someone's days, it is as if he had destroyed it with his own hands." Shiva Ossor BeTammuz and the Churban are not "Their" problem for which we must duly suffer -- they are our problem. Being our problem, perhaps we should try to clean up the mess we made -- and continue to make.


Perhaps we should first look at what happened (and apparently is still happening) on these days. On the Seventeenth of Tammuz, we thought Moshe Rabbenu was late in coming down from Mt. Sinai. Maybe he was dead. We panicked. We were "alone" in the desert and we were afraid that we would not be taken care of -- despite all the miracles G-d had already done for us. How did we come to have a lack of faith/belief/confidence that G-d will take care of us so that we were panicked into building a Golden Calf? Why would we think G-d would abandon us? How can we avoid making the same mistake?

If we stop to think rationally from time to time, we will understand that since G-d is infinite, there is no place He is not -- including right here with us in the same room. Since He is here with us, then how in the world could He possibly forget about us?

He also loves us with an infinite love. "I love you with an infinite world of love, therefore I draw you to me with affection" (Yirmiyohu 31:2). "I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is mine" (Shir HaShirim 6:3). "Beloved is Israel for they are called the children of G-d . . .as it is said, `You are the children of the Lord your G-d' " (Pirkei Ovos 3:18, Devorim 14:1)

No one forced Him to create us. He doesn't need anything from us. He is infinite. He has everything already: "If you are righteous, what do you give Him? What does He receive from your hand? (Iyov 35:7)

He created us as a perfect act of loving and giving -- anything less would imply that He was somehow lacking -- which would mean that He was not infinite and hence not G- d.

Unfortunately, there are reasons for us to imagine that G-d is not here and not taking care of us at all times. Such a fantasy allows us to imagine that we need to take care of things, that it is up to us. Of course, we don't deny G-d -- but in a particular area, namely our personal interests, we think we also need to take care of things. This can give us a feeling of independence and importance. This way we can also become "gods" albeit with a small "g" but "gods" nonetheless.

We can even manufacture some wonderful rationalizations for our grandiose visions. Follow this one: If we are bad, either for what we have done or just because we are not such good people in the first place, then G-d will withdraw His Presence from us. Who can blame Him? But if He has removed His Presence from us, then we need to take care of ourselves. Right? Once we start "taking care of ourselves" then, let us be frank, anything goes: even a Golden Calf.

G-d can't forget us. He can't leave us because He is recreating us every fraction of a moment (Sforno Devorim 10:18). He is infinite. He is everywhere at every moment.

He can choose to "hide" from us, but He only does that when we push Him away, when we want to act as small gods. In those cases, He simply lets us experience the consequences of our own desires.

I personally am sick and tired of experiencing a world that runs with G-d's Presence hidden. A hidden G-d means death, destruction, the Temples destroyed, millions of men women and children murdered periodically throughout history. Sickness, cancers, fighting, pain. Lack of Torah, peace, beauty.

What do we need this for? So we can pretend to be "gods"? So we can express our petty emotions? How many dead children is our "freedom" worth? How much more pain must we continue to inflict upon ourselves by denying G-d's ever-present care?

All the tragedies we suffer which we call "a test of our emunoh" are totally unnecessary. We are the ones who wanted independence from G-d. We are the ones who built the Golden Calf in order to gain our independence! The 17th of Tammuz -- our independence day!

Except, of course, one of the consequences of being independent from G-d is that we are bound to the natural order of this world. Which means we die. Which means we suffer. Which means other organisms that inhabit this earthly realm can attack and murder us.

Are we having a good time? Do you like death? Is a little bit of illusory independence really worth it?

Or perhaps we have finally had enough and are willing to ask G-d to rule over us with no reservations. That's all it really takes. G-d didn't give the Torah to a nation of perfect people. He gave it to us with all our flaws -- except we were simply willing to listen.

G-d does not require each of us to learn 23 hours a day and to walk three feet above the ground. He just wants us to try a little. To desire His closeness. And then . . . No More Death, Suffering, Pain! It seems well worth it.

We would like to make one practical suggestion.

In the sefer Tomer Devorah, the 13 Middos of G-d's Rachamim (Mercy) are explained. Tomer Devorah was written by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero -- a student of the author of the Shulchan Oruch. It is available in English as The Palm Tree of Devorah, published by Targum Press.

A key element in his explanation is the fact that G-d takes care of us even when we rebel against Him. That is to say, even when we might think that G-d would pull away from us because of our deeds, He doesn't. He continues to take care of us with His infinite love.

So we really have no reason to "take care of things" ourselves under any circumstances. It's simply counterproductive and it leads to death and destruction. Perhaps we should learn one of the middos each day. Perhaps the extra emunoh we will acquire will have some impact.

In our generation we often claim that we are "too weak" to take on major projects in the spiritual realm. Yet for all our "weakness" we are remarkably competent in other areas such as making business deals, building projects, lobbying politicians etc. Furthermore, G-d wants our success. If we don't have the spiritual abilities that previous generations had -- then apparently we do not need them for the task at hand. Which means that we, with all our weaknesses and problems, can accomplish what G-d wants us to.

All we need to do is to try a little harder. To seek G-d's Presence in our lives. To desire to hear Him, to be close to Him.

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