Summer teaches us love of life and pity for the falling flower.
~ Jill Hammer
When I first considered the topic for this month of Tammuz, I must admit I felt rather hesitant and dubious. Surrender seems to have a negative aspect to it. Surrender. Quit! Give up! But, as I have given it more thought, I realize it is a vital characteristic and it is important to know how and when to surrender.
What comes to mind, initially, is the white flag of surrender in a war scenario. It conveys a weakness and vulnerability, and at that the same time it signals a desire for peace. We do at times find ourselves in a place of vulnerability and if we ‘surrender’ and seek peace we are depending on the understanding and the mercy of the ‘opposition.’ If we are harboring any pride or resentment this is a difficult feat to accomplish. It requires humility – anavah in Hebrew. Many Mussar teachers, including Alan Morinis, believe, as expressed by Rabbi Bachya ben Pekuda in Duties of the Heart: “All virtues and duties are dependent on humility.”
We know that humility is not humiliation. Morinis points out that humility always is associated with healthy self-esteem. “Lack of self-esteem leads to unholy and false feelings of worthlessness.” He quotes the esteemed Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, as saying: “When humility results in depression it is defective, when it is genuine it inspires joy, courage, and inner dignity.” We may gather, then, that surrender, when prompted by humility, is a stand of courage and inner dignity; which will result in peace and joy.
Gedale Fenster, a modern Mussar teacher, explains that in situations where we may feel lost, or overwhelmed, vulnerable, or confused, we shouldn’t question God…we should question our thinking and acknowledge that we don’t know everything. He says:
“The Sages tell us that the greatest level of knowledge is realizing you know nothing. Even those who reach the peak of peaks of inner and spiritual knowledge, come to understand that, when you get there, you know nothing!
This understanding allows you to surrender – to go into a state of bittul [surrender] – a form of closing your eyes and accepting that there is a much bigger picture that one can’t fully understand.”
EXILES AND RETURNS – DESCENTS AND ASCENTS
It is believed that Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden on the 1st of Tammuz (The Book of Jubilees 3:32-33). The short time in Eden faded like a flower. They now had to face an existence of sweat and toil in order to survive and grow crops for food. We are reminded that just as Adam and Eve now made a home on the adamah (Heb. – soil, earth) from which they were created, we too have a connection and responsibility toward the earth, our present home.
The 1st of Tammuz is the birthday of Joseph, Jacob’s son. Joseph knew humiliation. His brothers were jealous of this favorite son, born to the loved wife Rachel. They hated him and when the opportunity arose they threw him into a pit and then sold him into slavery. In Egypt, he is falsely accused and is thrown into prison. Yet, Joseph responds with humility and courage and each time he descends, he rises again. We know the account of how he rose to the position of second in command in Egypt and how he ultimately saved his family from famine and his storing of the grain saved many peoples from hunger.
We remember how, when the Exile in Egypt had ended, lead by Joshua, the Israelite nation had entered and were now, in the month of Tammuz, conquering the Promised Land,. Their battle against the Amorites occurred on the 3rd day of the month. Joshua, knowing they needed more time to gain the victory, prayed that the sun and the moon would stand still (Joshua 10:12-13). God answered his prayer and the battle was won. During this season, when we feel our most fragile, the story of Joshua reminds us that though we are flowers that fade, we have a heart and a voice that can cry to our Creator and He is faithful to hear and answer in love. The month contains both the fires of challenge and suffering and the remedy of the waters of humility and chesed – lovingkindness.
THE FIRE AND WATER OF TAMMUZ
This seventh month of the Hebrew calendar falls in the heart of summer in Israel and the Northern Hemisphere. The heat can be overwhelming, and we see the land becoming parched, streams drying up, and sometimes crops are threatened. We are reminded that life is fragile. As Job described: “Man born of woman is short of days, and fed with trouble. He blossoms like a flower and withers, and vanishes like a shadow.” (14:1-2)
We also are reminded that Tammuz was a very sad and challenging month in Jewish history. There is a fast day on the 17th Tammuz, the day that Jerusalem’s walls fell to the invading Roman army, which eventually lead to her destruction and a long exile.
The fast day (17th July, 2022) begins three weeks of mourning, during which Orthodox Jews avoid parties and celebrations. We reflect on the sadness of the world around us – how the fires of pride, anger, and violence continue to cause loss and sorrow. We ask these questions during Tammuz and reflect on any fiery elements in ourselves that might need clarity, calming and balance.
On the other hand, as Jill Hammer points out in her Book of Days, “Inwardly this is the water season, the time when fruits begin to fill with juice.” We think of summer days on the seashore, or picnics, and holidays…sunlight, outdoors, fun. The gifts and harvests of summer are a blessing. Yet there are the tough times. Hammer adds: Water… “calls out to us to cry out our grief and quench one another’s thirst for comfort….We pour out our hearts before the Divine Presence, so that we may prepare ourselves for the rebirth that will come in the autumn.”
May we press through the month of Tammuz with humble hearts that are ready to surrender to the majesty, greatness, and care of our Father and King. May we also enjoy and appreciate with gratitude the many gifts the season brings.