Introduction: In kabalah, each month of the Hebrew calendar is associated with not only a constellation and a planet as in traditional astrology, but also a Hebrew letter, a part of the body, an angel (male or female), a human attribute, one of the four primordial elements (earth, wind, water, and fire), one of the three forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), one of the twelve tribes, and a permutation of God’s name.
The word tammuz in Aramaic means to heat up. This is the first hot month of the summer. Also, in spiritual terms, things get a little hot this month. Some of the worst tragedies in Jewish history have happened during Tammuz, such as the sin of the golden calf and the subsequent breaking of the first tablets, the mission of the spies who gave a bad report about the land of Israel in Moses’ time, the beginning of the destruction of the Temple, etc. This time period is ripe for negativity and challenges. An indication of this fact is that the seventeenth day of Tammuz is singled out as a fast day. That solemn day begins a three week period of mourning for the destruction of the two Temples of Jerusalem and ends with the ninth of Av (next month).
The Hebrew letter associated with this month is “Ches,” the eighth letter of the alef-bet. The word Ches is very similar to the word “Chet” which means transgression. There’s an unusual danger of transgression at this time.
The kabalists have a rule: the manner in which any word or letter appears for the first time in the Torah tells you something important about that word of letter. Ches is first seen in the word “choshech” which means darkness. Ches also stands for the number eight which represents the metaphysical. Seven is the natural world. For example, a week has seven days. There are seven visible planets in our solar system. Eight, however, symbolizes that which is unseen and therefore has a strong connection with darkness.
Out of the twelve tribes and seven shepherds only one person has the letter ches in his name: Isaac. He is the forefather who is connected with Tammuz. Isaac’s life and personality, our sages tell us, were an expression of God’s attribute of justice in the world. The world cannot exist without it, yet with only strict justice the world would not last very long, either. That’s why Jacob was chosen to represent God’s chosen nation and not Abraham or Isaac. Jacob tempered strict justice (Isaac) with lovingkindness (Abraham) and became an expression of “Tiferet,” a mixture of these two extremes.
The twenty two day mourning period, between the seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av actually has a positive counterpart on the calendar – the twenty two days between Rosh Hashanah and the end of Succot. Tammuz starts the days of mourning and Succot is called “the time of our joy.” This parallel implies a Divine hand in our national tragedies.
The permutation of God’s name for Tammuz is the exact opposite of the usual spelling. This also symbolizes the attribute of Justice in a very interesting way. God’s standard four letter name is His name of mercy. To spell it backwards is to suggest the opposite of mercy, which is justice. The beauty of the symbol is that if you think about it you’ll notice that it is God’s attribute of mercy backwards. In other words, within all events that seem to only be an expression of God’s strict justice you will find hidden His attribute of mercy.
These last two points illustrate the hidden light which is in this period of time. Last month was Sivan, the giving of the written law. Tammuz symbolizes the oral law. There’s a tradition that God taught Moses the written law by day, and the oral law by night. Many people have the custom nowadays not to study the written law at night; Maimonides says there’s special guidance to those who study the oral law at night.
Sight is the human attribute associated with Tammuz. It is the oral law which allows the Jewish people to see clearly even when enveloped in the darkness of exile. The special holiness given to us in this time period is the struggle to see the light.
Problems and difficulties are also from the Almighty. But you have to look harder to find Him. You have to think more deeply to see the blessing which is Hidden. An amazing insight is revealed in the famous section in Genesis 1:3 that starts “God said `Let there be light.'” The word “light” appears five times in this section, symbolizing the five books of Moses.
Through developing an emotional attachment to the words of Torah we can rectify the damage done in previous generations. In fact, all of the 613 commandments are considered advice in how to develop an emotional attachment to the one main mitzvah – “I am your God.” You can choose any one of them to use it to connect your heart to God.
In conclusion, the opportunity of this lunar cycle is to look for the blessings hidden within the difficulties in your life, and to strive to develop an emotional attachment to the wisdom you learn.