The Talmud (Taanit 28b) lists five tragic events in Jewish history that occurred on Tammuz 17, on account of which
a fast was instituted on this day (see
Laws & Customs").
The first of these occurred in 1313 BCE, forty days after the Giving of the Torah on Sivan 6. Upon descending Mount Sinai and witnessing Israel's worship of the Golden Calf (see
"Today in Jewish History" for yesterday, Tammuz 16), Moses smashed the Tablets
inscribed with the Ten Commandments which he was carrying down from the mountain.
(for the other four tragedies of Tammuz 17, see below)
To mourn the breaching of Jerusalem's walls and the other tragic events that occurred on this day (see
"Today in Jewish History") and repent and rectify their causes, Tammuz 17 was instituted as a fast day. This year, however, the actual fast is held tomorrow (Sunday), due to the holiness of
The 17th of Tammuz also marks the beginning of The Three Weeks period of mourning which culminates on the 9th of Av, commemorating the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people.
Weddings and other joyful events are not held during this
period; like mourners, we do not cut our hair, and various pleasurable activities are limited or proscribed. (Consult the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) or a qualified rabbi regarding specific proscriptions).
The Lubavitcher Rebbe urged that the Three Weeks should be a time of increased giving of charity and Torah study (in keeping with the verse (Isaiah 1:27), "Zion shall be redeemed by law, and her returnees by charity"), particularly the study of those portions of Torah that deal with the laws and the deeper significance of the Holy Temple.
During the summer months, from the Shabbat after Passover until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashahah, we study a weekly chapter of the Talmud's Ethics of the Fathers ("Avot") each Shabbat afternoon; this week we study Chapter Six.
A parable of the Baal Shem Tov, of a king who on a day of joy proclaimed that anyone who would ask anything of him would be granted his request.
Some requested power and honor, others wealth and riches. To each the king gave according to his request.
Until there was one wise person who stated that his desire was nothing more than to speak with the king personally three times a day.
The king was very pleased with this request, seeing that this person cherished the king’s conversation more than wealth and honor. Therefore he granted this request, permitting this wise person entry to the palace to speak with the king, and instructed that the treasures be opened to him so that he might partake also of wealth and honor.
And so, David sang in his psalms, “A prayer of a pauper . . . when he will pour out his conversation before G‑d.” The conversation itself, that is his request.
What is the wisdom of this pauper?
It is that others chose greatness for themselves, while the pauper chose to stand as a nothingness before the greatness of the king.
By doing so, he chose the King Himself, along with all the King’s greatness.