| Avraham ben Yaakov
The month of TAMUZ
Remember Moses' Torah
The month of Tammuz is usually the hottest in the year. As the summer progresses, with many looking forward to vacation-time, it may become increasingly challenging to fulfill our good resolutions made weeks earlier on the festival of Shavuot commemorating the Giving of the Torah.
Shavuot comes only once a year, but we must receive the Torah afresh each day, constantly renewing our efforts to advance in our studies. This is what we need to remember during Tammuz.
The 17th day of Tammuz was to have been a day of great joy for Israel, as it was forty days after Israel heard the voice of HaShem at Mount Sinai, and Moses was due to come down from the mountain to rejoin the people and teach them the details of the Torah. But the people miscalculated, thinking Moses was to return on 16 th Tammuz. When he did not arrive on that day, they thought he had died and they turned to Aaron to make the Golden Calf. The following day, when Moses returned carrying the Two Tablets of Stone, he saw the people celebrating and dancing round the idol and he flung the Tablets to the ground so that the stones shattered, while the letters of the Ten Commandments inscribed upon them flew back to Heaven.
The Torah is intended to be inscribed on the heart of each Israelite, but on account of the sin of the Golden Calf, people became insensitive to its message and “forgetfulness descended into the world” (Eiruvin 54a).
The Tikkun (repair) for this forgetfulness that came down in the month of Tammuz is to “Remember Moses' Torah” (Malachi 3:22). The initial letters of the three Hebrew words in the verse make up the name of this month: TaMuZ (see Likutey Moharan I:217).
Among the things we need to remember is to fulfill our daily quotas of Torah study, for regular study itself promotes good memory. We also need to remember our various mitzvah obligations as they arise at different times and junctures in our daily lives. This is why Jewish males wear the Tzitzit each day, “…in order that you may remember and carry out all My commandments” (Numbers 15:40).
In time to come, the 17th Tammuz will indeed become a time of joy for Israel, as prophesied by Zechariah (8:19): “The fast of the fourth… will be for happiness and joy”. This refers to the fast of the 17th Tammuz, which is the fourth month of the Jewish year. Through remembering Moses' Torah, may we be worthy of the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, and then the 17th Tammuz will become a festival!
During the long summer days of Tammuz the light is at its most intense. Sefer Yetzirah (5:8) states that the month of Tammuz, corresponding to the Zodiac sign of the Crab (Hebrew Sartan , Cancer), is bound up with the human faculty of vision and with the tribe of Reuven, whose name is made up of the Hebrew words “ Re-oo ben , See , a son!” (Genesis 29:22).
The theme of vision, good or otherwise, recurs in many of the Torah portions read at this time of the year. The Red Heiffer had to be burned before the eyes of the priest (Numbers 19:5). G-d wanted Moses to sanctify Him in the eyes of the children of Israel (Numbers 20:12). “And Balak son of Tzippor saw ” (Numbers 22:2); “And Bilaam saw ” (Numbers 24:1); “And Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the priest saw ” (Numbers 25:7).
The sin of the Golden Calf, which took place in Tammuz, was also bound up with faulty vision: it is said that when the people were expecting Moses to return from Mount Sinai on 16 th Tammuz, the Satan deceived them with an image of Moses being carried up to Heaven, never to reappear. This is what made the people want to make a visible image of their “redeemer”, the Golden Calf: “These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4).
Human vision is prone to error, as when Eve “saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes” and ate from the forbidden fruit which brought death into the world (Genesis 3:6). Too often we may be misled by outward appearances and fail to grasp the inner truth of things. This is particularly dangerous in today's world, where we are surrounded by images intentionally designed to create impressions that may totally deceptive.
It is through regular study of the Torah that we may cleanse our minds of illusions and penetrate to the true meaning and purpose of this world.
Care of the Eyes
The eyes are among the most precious and hard-working organs in the whole body. For students in particular, long hours spent reading under artificial light may put great strain on the eyes, leading to vision problems as well as fatigue even when the body itself is not in need of sleep.
Covering your eyes with the palms of your hands for a few minutes is a simple yet highly effective way to relax and rest your eyes so that you can return to your work refreshed and ready for a new bout of concentration.
Rest your elbows on a desk or table, close your eyes and cover them with your hands so that your palms are over your eyes with your fingers on your forehead extending up to your scalp. Cup your hands just a little so that they don't press on your eyeballs but rest lightly on the muscles surrounding the eyes. The idea is to shut out as much light as possible without putting pressure on the eyes. The warmth of the palms helps relax the eye muscles.
Practice this for periods of anywhere from a minute or two to 10-15 minutes or even longer if your eyes are particularly strained. It can be done anywhere and at any time. Particularly when you have a lot of work to do but feel eye-strain and fatigue, covering your eyes for a few minutes can be very refreshing. Practiced at the end of the day before going to bed, it can make your sleep more restful and refreshing.
You can put the time you spend relaxing your eyes to good use to mentally review your studies, examine and work on yourself, offer your personal prayers, listen to a Torah tape or just relax.
Good traits are healthy
Hot summer weather may leave people enervated, irritable and quarrelsome. This is often compounded during the somber period of “The Three Weeks” between the 17 th Tammuz and the fast of Tisha B'Av, the 9 th of Av, when we mourn over the destruction of the Temple. Too often during this time of severe judgment, the Satan dances among us, leading people to misinterpret one another's actions and intentions and jump to hasty conclusions, causing friction, tension, bad feelings, back-biting, fruitless arguments, accusations and counter-accusations… the “bite of the crab”.
Not only does this cause people to transgress many Torah prohibitions while also fuelling the fires of division and conflict in families, social groups and communities. It also takes its toll on people's actual physical health! In the words of King Solomon: “A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; but envy is the rottenness of the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).
The remedy lies in learning to judge others favorably even though we may see many reasons to fault them. Even so, we need to think carefully about all kinds of possible mitigating factors that should make us view them more positively.
The nature of the wicked prophet Bilaam was to judge everybody negatively, because he was haughty and selfish and had an evil eye which saw only evil. Our task is to make ourselves worthy disciples of Abraham our father, who possessed a meek spirit, a humble soul and a good eye ( Avot 5:19). Abraham's nature was to judge others positively and look on them favorably. This good vision should be our goal in the month of Tammuz.
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