by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto
This year the fast on the 17th of Tammuz falls on Shabbat. Therefore, the fast is postponed until Sunday, the 18th of Tammuz. In the Sephardic and Eastern communities, it is customary to announce the fast on Shabbat.
Chazal relate that five dreadful events occurred on the 17th of Tammuz:
The first Tablets were broken. The daily [continual] burnt-offering ceased. The city’s wall was breached. Apostimos the wicked burned the Torah. An idol was erected in the Temple.
The Tablets were Broken
On the seventh of Sivan, after the giving of the Torah, Moshe returned to ascend Mount Sinai [it was still prohibited for the nation to approach the mountain, as they were warned prior to Matan Torah]. Moshe went to learn straight from Hashem all the rules and details and laws of the Torah, and to receive the Tablets of Testimony.
When Moshe went up to Heaven, he told Am Yisrael: ''At the end of forty days, at the commencement of the sixth hour [of the day], I will come and bring you the Torah.'' They thought that the day that he ascended counted as the first day. However, Moshe had told them it would be forty full days, and a full day begins at the sunset preceding it. Thus, the day that he ascended did not count as the first day because it was not a full day beginning at the sunset prior to it. As we know, Moshe ascended on the seventh of Sivan, and accordingly the fortieth full day came out on the 17th of Tammuz.
On the 16th of Tammuz the Satan came and confused the world with images of blackness and muddle, images of cloudiness, fog and turmoil, saying, certainly Moshe died, since the sixth hour of the morning already passed and he did not return.
The Satan said to them: Moshe, your leader, where is he? They said to him: He ascended to Heaven. He said to them: The sixth [hour] has passed! – But they paid no heed to him – Died! – and they did not pay attention to him. He showed them an image of his coffin. They ran to Ahron hysterically in confusion and said to him: Make us a G-d!
The next day, Moshe came down from the mountain. When Hashem gave Moshe the Tablets, the Tablets carried themselves. However, when Moshe descended and approached the Camp and saw the Golden Calf, the letters floated out of the parchment and the Tablets became unbearably heavy in Moshe’s hands. Immediately – “Moshe’s anger flared up,” and he threw them from his hands.
Also during the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash, the [wall of the] city was breached in Tammuz, on the ninth day of the month. However, because one cannot burden the people excessively, we do not institute two consecutive fast-days. Therefore, the fast was set on the 17th of Tammuz, since the destruction of the second Temple was harder for us.
The Daily [lit. Continual] Burnt-Offering Ceased
During the destruction of the First Temple, the following occurred. On the ninth of Tammuz, the wall surrounding Yerushalayim was breached and the enemies charged through the city and caused destruction. However, the enemies could not enter the Temple, because the Kohanim barricaded themselves within and continued performing the services until the seventh of Av. But the supply of sheep for the daily sacrifice was lacking from the thirteenth of Tammuz, since they always kept a four day supply of sheep that were checked for flaws and ready for sacrifice. From the thirteenth of Tammuz and onward they bribed the enemies who made a siege on them: They lowered silver and gold, and they sent up sheep for them. This is what they did until the 17th of Tammuz.
The [wall of the] City was Breached
This event took place during the destruction of the Second Temple when the wall surrounding Yerushalayim was breached on the 17th of Tammuz as Titus and his army invaded the city. Whereas the destruction of the First Temple in the times of Tzidkiyahu Hamelech it says [Yirmeyahu 52]: In the fourth month, on the ninth of the month, the famine in the city became critical; there was no food for the people of the land. The city was breached, and all the men of war fled and left the city during the night,” etc.
In Yerushalmi it says that also during the destruction of the First Temple the city was breached on the 17th of Tammuz, but because of the terrible suffering at the time, they were confused about the date, and they thought that it was the ninth of Tammuz.
And even though Hashem knew the date, and the navi knew it as well, He recorded through the navi Yirmeyahu that it occurred on the ninth of the month as the nation believed, in order to demonstrate that, so to say, Hashem is with them in their suffering, and so to say, even His calculations got distorted, which is something which we cannot dare utter with our mouths or allow our ears to hear.
Apostimos Burned the Torah
This event which is mentioned in the Mishnah, its description is not recorded in the earliest sources. Yerushalmi only mentions: Where did the burning take place? Rav Acha says: passage of Lud; and Rabbanan say: by the passage of Terlosa.
The later commentators speculate that this event refers to the period of the Roman commissioner Cumanus. It took place approximately sixteen years before the Great Revolt against the Romans. At that time the commissioner’s troops provoked the Jews and their service in the Temple, causing large disturbances that subsequently quieted down. Regarding that period, Josephus relates the following:
“After this calamity [when ten thousand people were killed on the Temple Mount because of the uproar caused by the Romans] a new uproar began because of highway robbers, since on the main road next to Beit Horon, bandits attacked the convoy of Stephen, a servant of the Ceasar, and robbed him. Cumanus sent members of his army to the nearby villages where the robbery took place, and commanded the arrest of the villagers and to have them brought to him, since he accused them of not chasing after the highway robbers to catch them. One of the soldiers took the sacred Torah scroll in the village and tore it up and burned it. All over the Jews were frenzied, as if the entire country before them was consumed by fire. Immediately upon hearing what happened, people fueled by their zealousness over the holy scroll, rushed like arrows flying from a sling to Caesarea to see Cumanus, so he should not delay the punishment of the man who always cursed at G-d and His Torah. The Commissioner realized that the storm would not subside until he would calm their spirits. Therefore, he ordered the soldier hung on the gallows in the midst of the throngs demonstrating against him. Thereafter, the Jews returned to their homes.
According to this account, the event took place on the 17th of Tammuz, several years prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. The name Stephen was confused with Apostimos, and such mix-ups are quite common.
An Idol was Erected in the Temple
There are those who claim that also this was performed by Apostimos the wicked on the fateful day of the 17th of Tammuz. And there are those who claim that it is referring to the idol that Menashe Hamelech erected in the Temple, which was on the very day of the 17th of Tammuz as well.
Days of Peace and Truth
In the future, so the prophet Zechariah prophesied following the destruction of the First Temple, all the fasts; Tisha B’Av, the 17th of Tammuz, Tenth of Tevet, and the Fast of Gedaliah, will become days of joy and happiness. And this is what the prophet Zechariah says: “Thus says Hashem, Master of Legions: The fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth will be to the House of Yehudah for joy and for gladness and for happy festivals. [Only] love truth and peace!” [Zechariah 8:19]
Nevertheless, we should know that the sages stated that not everyone will merit to live until the End of Days and to see Yerushalayim in its glory. What must we do to merit to get to these glorious days? One must grieve over the destruction of the Temple and feel the pain of the holy Shechinah, who is wailing because she is in exile, as it says [Taanit 30b]: Whoever mourns over Yerushalayim merits and sees in her joy, and whoever does not mourn over Yerushalayim will not witness her joy.