Beginning with the 17th day of the month of Tamuz, upon which we fast, the nation of Israel observes a three week period of mourning, which concludes with the fast of the 9th of Av. During these three weeks, great tragedies befell the nation of Israel, the greatest of which was the destruction of both the first and second Bais HaMikdosh, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. (For more information on why we fast on these two days,see I: 27, 30, 31.)
The B’nai Yisaschar, in describing the significance of the months of Tamuz and Av, writes that each of these months represents a specific power or sense in mankind. Tamuz represents the power of sight, and Av represents the power of speech. The importance of recognizing these attributes in these months is only underscored by looking at how these months began their association with sorrow and tragedy.
A few weeks ago, we read in the weekly Parsha how Moshe sent spies to scout out the land of Cana’an, the land that the nation of Israel was destined to enter and to settle in as their homeland. Spies were selected from each of the tribes. These men were each great in their own right, and collectively were a group of pious G-d-fearing men. This group of spies began their journey at the very end of the month of Sivan. The entire month of Tamuz was spent viewing the land, taking in the sights of the terrain, the inhabitants, and the cities and towns. In the month of Av, these spies returned.
Unfortunately, although all of these men started their journey as righteous, their report about the land clearly indicated their lack of faith in G-d. They all, except for Calev and Yehoshua, stated that they would not be able to challenge the inhabitants of the land. They provided what the Torah terms “”Can evil”” report, that caused the nation to panic and regret leaving Egypt. For this blatant lack of faith in G-d, the failure to recognize all the great miracles that He had done for the nation until that point, the entire nation was punished. The spies died from a plague. The nation had to spend 40 years in the desert before they would be allowed to enter the land that they so foolishly feared. And the entire generation of men alive at the time would never merit entering the land. The day on which this occurred was the 9th of Av.
During the month of Tamuz, the spies were engaged in an extensive use of their power of sight. They viewed all they had to see about the land. In the month of Av, the spies had to use their power of speech to report that which they had viewed. In both instances, the spies could have put these powers to good use. They could have construed what they saw in a positive light, instead of attributing to it the negative characteristics they subsequently reported. This report, also, could have been positive, focusing on the great benefit that was to come to the nation, of course with G-d’s assistance. Yet, the spies abused these two powers, an abuse which resulted in a downfall for the entire nation of Israel. This downfall set the stage for these two months being months of sadness for all time.
During the Three Week period, it is up to us to recognize the powers that these months represent. We, if we use our powers of sight and speech appropriately, can rectify the sorrowful situation that began with the spies. If we make sure we only watch that which is befitting out pure eyes, and refrain from uttering words that only serve to defile our lips, we will bring ourselves closer to the time when these two months will be turned into months of joy.