Tamuz and Av, Two Jewish Months with a Historic Past
by Avi Lazerson
The two Jewish months, Tamuz and Av (which generally come around June and July), reminds us of the greatest tragedies that the Jewish people experienced in ancient times. This is referring to the destruction of the two Temples that had stood in Jerusalem, each for a little over 400 years. (To give you a feel for this, remember that the United States of America was established as a country in 1776, that means that the USA has only been in existence for approximately 235 years.) The two temples stood a total of 830 years interrupted by seventy years of exile.
The building of the first Temple was begun by King Solomon in his fourth year of his reign, in the Jewish year 2928 (which is about 800 years B.C.E. - before the common era). It took seven years to build the Temple. This Temple was destroyed by Nebuzaradan, the commander of King Nebuchadnezar's armies in the Jewish year 3338, which is 410 years after it was built by King Solomon. The began the beginning of the Babylonian exile.
The second temple was built after the exiles returned from Babylon in the Jewish year 3408, which was after a seventy year exile from the land of Israel. This temple stood for 420 years and was destroyed by the Romans under Titus in the year 3828. Both temples were destroyed on the same date, the ninth of Av, known to all as Tisha B'Av.
Fifty years after the destruction of the first temple, the mighty Babylonia empire had lost it power and was succeeded by Persia. The King of Persia at that time, Cyrus, was sympathetic to the Jews and gave his permission for them to return to their land and to rebuilt the holy temple. More than forty thousand Jews, including the Levites and Priests, returned to Israel to rebuild the land and the temple. Cyrus gave back much of the treasures of the Temple that Nebuchadnezar had taken and he even provided the Jews with a military escort as they returned to the land of Israel. The joyous Jews were led by Zerubabel, a grandson of former Jewish king, Yehoyachin, and with him came Joshua, the High Priest.
They found the land in ruins but they quickly began to rebuild it and the Temple. In the month of Tishre, they made a great assembly and erected a stone altar in the courtyard of the holy temple and celebrated the festivals of the month of Tishre with sacrifices and thanksgiving to G-d for His mercy in returning to them the temple service and the ability to live in the Land of Israel. The temple was not yet rebuilt, but the Jews soon began to lay the foundation stones for its rebuilding.
At this time came to the Jews a delegation of the Cutheans and Samaritans. These Samaritans were actually a diverse group of people that were settled in the land of Samaria by Esarhadon, the king of Assyria. The Jews who were very wary of idolatry rejected their offer of help since although the Samaritans professed a fear of the Jewish G-d they also served their own pagan gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. (1 Kings 17:34) The Jews did not want the influence of these “half” Jews on their new community.
Because of this rejection, the Cutheans and Samaritans became the enemies of the returning Jews and did every thing in their power to stop them from returning and from rebuilding the temple. They would frequently attack the Jews and hinder the Jewish efforts to build Jerusalem and the temple. They brought false reports to the Persian capital to destroy the good name of the Jews. At this time Cyrus had died and his successor was not as friendly to the Jews as was Cyrus. An order was issued by the Persian government to stop the rebuilding of the temple. This edict was a most severe blow to the Jews who were suffering also from bad harvest and they began to despair.
At this point in time arose two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. They urged Zerubabel and Joshua to continue the work of the temple. The prophets inspired the Jews with hope and assured them that indeed G-d would bless their work since He desired the rebuilding of the Temple, His holy sanctuary.
Zerubabel went to Persia and spoke with the new king, Darius. Darius granted the request to continue the building. The building continued with renewed vigor and finally just before the Passover holiday the second temple was erected. Seventy years had passed between the destruction of the first temple and the rebuilding of the second. Once again it became the center of Jewish life and it gave a new life to the new Jewish state which prospered under the guidance of the high priest Joshua.
The temple was the center of Jewish life in the land of Israel. It was the visible evidence and proof that the Divine Presence, known as the holy schechina, was in the midst of the Jewish people. From the Temple the individual Jew drew his inspiration and holiness. Although the sages tell us that who ever did not see Jerusalem in its glory never saw a beautiful city in his life and who ever did not see the Temple never saw a magnificent building in his life, the real beauty was not the external beauty of the structure, but the inner spiritual beauty. For 420 additional years the Jews would come up to Jerusalem on the three pilgrimage holidays to visit the second temple, on Passover, Shavout, and Succot. There they would draw into themselves a spiritual inspiration that enabled them to become close to G-d.
When the Jews began to neglect the commandments of the Torah and they turned to foreign religions with its subsequent idolatry, they forfeited their land, their temple and their independence. G-d told them that if they do not come to His house, He will not come to theirs (Succah 53a). G-d destroyed the temple and sent the Jews into exile that they should repent of their iniquity.
The period between the seventeenth of Tamuz and the ninth of Av (Tisha B'Av) is the time which the sages have set aside for us to consider our national and personal fate. Two thousand years we have been in exile. We are beginning to return now to our land, but to insure that we will remain on our land and that we should see a third temple, we all must return to G-d with all of our hearts and soul so that He may return to us as He has promised. He will certainly send us a redeemer, a descendant from the house of David, to guide us and lead all Jews back to their ancient land. Then the third and last temple shall be built. Its glory and beauty shall surpass that of the first two temples as the prophet Haggai (2:9) has told us, “Greater shall be the glory of this last House.”
from the June 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine