Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the new month, is a joyous time according to Scripture, complete with special offerings and blessings for prosperity and good health.
However, as the Northern Hemisphere enters the hot and dry summer, a period of spiritual dryness also begins this month. Tammuz, the fourth month on the Hebrew calendar, is associated with a number of tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. Tammuz 17 in particular begins a three-week period of mourning that culminates in the following month on the ninth of Av—the fast day that commemorates the destruction of both Temples. While the joy of the new month is there at the beginning of Tammuz, it’s fair to say that joy sadly decreases as its days pass.
Seriously? Let’s be honest—the first half of 2020 has not been the most joyful of times, no matter what hemisphere you live in. The last thing we want to think about now is another period of sadness, recalling tragedy, and mourning the loss of something dear. So far, we’ve faced a pandemic, social isolation, economic difficulty, and in the United States, strife and division on a countrywide scale. Things are already pretty heavy. Can’t we just skip the Tammuz/Av thing this year?
Tragedy and misfortune are inescapable realities of this life and certainly nothing new to the Jewish people. The sages compare Israel to the moon in that many times throughout history, it would seem that they are waning, declining, eventually to disappear. Yet, like a new moon, they re-emerge and continue to shine light for the world to see. It is interesting to note that the observance of Rosh Chodesh does not occur when the moon is full and illuminating the night sky. Instead, when its light is comparatively invisible, we’re thanking God for the restoration and renewal that it represents. When we can’t see what we’re hoping for, we’re believing that the Creator is still faithful and that he will restore that which seems to have disappeared.
There was a time when Jews were prohibited from observing Rosh Chodesh. The Romans removed the authority of the rabbinical court in Jerusalem to sanctify the day. That forced the sages to find a new, secretive way to communicate the new moon, the month, and the message that it spoke to the people. The Talmud, in Rosh HaShanah 25a, relates that an emissary was sent to Ein Tav, where witnesses would then testify that they had indeed seen the new moon. The message to be sent back to the high court was, “David, melech Yisrael, chai v’kayam!”—“David, the king of Israel lives and endures!” You might know that line from a popular song sung today at joyous events such as bar or bat mitzvah or wedding ceremonies. It’s also included in the Kiddush Levanah (Sanctification of the Moon) said outside under the light of the moon during its waxing phase.
The significance of that code phrase means so much more than a catchy tune could communicate. For them and for us, the kingdom is, in essence, hidden. We cannot yet see Messiah reigning from Jerusalem, Torah written on the hearts of all new-covenant participants, or the wolf lying peacefully with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6) The light of the kingdom is not clearly visible to us. Instead, what we see is strife, discontent, wars and rumors of wars, famine, disease, and generally speaking, darkness.
Here is the bad news: Yep, it’s Tammuz, a heavy month leading into a heavier one in Av, and things are already pretty heavy out there right now. With all the new challenges we’re facing in the world around us, we’re having to navigate a bit of darkness at present. It’s not the first time we’ve been here, and unless Messiah returns today, it won’t be the last. Tammuz is the month when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, twice, ultimately leading to the destruction of both Temples. The sages identify sinat chinam (“baseless hatred”) as the cause of the destruction. What is that? It is to hate one’s brother without cause. Yes, we still have that going on, and it’s on both sides. Tammuz isn’t comfortable, but it’s necessary. It offers a perfect place for the world to start considering some of these things—to see some things we may have not seen for a long time.
Ready for the good news? “Ben David, melech Yisrael, chai v’kayam!”—the Son of David, King of Israel, lives and endures! We know him as Yeshua, the light of the world, and like the new moon, he is here, though the light is not fully manifested. The plan remains firmly in place and this world will be redeemed and renewed when his light breaks the eastern sky. Until then, we believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah and follow the instruction of the author of Hebrews. We walk with the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NASB).