The period of Jewish national mourning known as “the Three Weeks” begins with the fast of the 17th of Tamuz, commemorating the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the enemy, and culminates with the fast of Tishah b’Av, the 9th of Av, when the enemy set fire to the Holy Temple, bringing about its destruction.
The Mishnah in Taanith records several national tragedies that also occurred on these days. According to the Mishnah, long before the breach of the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th of Tamuz, on that very same day, Moses, upon descending from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets, and seeing the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, threw down the tablets and broke them.
Moses had come down one day later than the Israelites had expected, and in a panic, they had forced Aaron to create a the golden calf as a new focal point for their worship. Aaron attempted to forestall this act as long as possible, hopeful for his brother’s arrival. On that day, the 16th of Tamuz, Aaron declared, “Tomorrow shall be a celebration for the Almighty!”
The deeper sources explain that not only did Aaron’s words refer to the next day, the 17th of Tamuz, but Aaron, himself a prophet, likewise foretold, perhaps unwittingly, that even though tragic circumstances currently surrounded this day, in the future the Jewish people would celebrate the 17th of Tamuz as a day of joy! Likewise, the book of Lamentations refers to the 9th of Av, the darkest day in Jewish history, as “a festival” (Lamentations 1:15). These references in scripture to days of such tragedy in terms of celebration hint to the prophecy of Zechariah, foretelling that all the days of tragedy shall ultimately become days of joyous celebration: “The fast of the fourth month (17 Tamuz), and the fast of the fifth month (9 Av), and the fast of the seventh month (“Tzom Gedaliah”), and the fast of the tenth month (10 Teveth), shall be to the house of Judah for joy and gladness, and for cheerful festivals.”
The Torah views tragedy as something that in its time causes great pain, but comes not for no reason. God only desires to cause man benefit, and sometimes events that seem painful to us when they occur take place only out of necessity to achieve a greater good. Ultimately, we will know why these tragedies occurred and see the great benefits they wrought for us. When we do, we will actually celebrate these events as God-sends for which we will feel tremendously grateful.
May we merit to see an end to tragedy, and to see the benefits of mankind’s suffering, so that we may celebrate our darkest times as those which have bright us the greatest light.
Based on Shla”h, Masecheth Taanith
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