“Tammuz is interlude, reiteration, steady growth,” writes Debbie Perlman, describing the month in the Jewish calendar which began this past weekend. She goes on to reference sprinklers, weeds, and fields already planted, concluding:
Hear us as we move into this time of increase,
As we gather up sunlight and breezes and rains
To lay aside against the unknowns ahead.
Hear us as we call You in truth.
— from “Ninety-One: Rosh Chodesh Tammuz”
IN Flames to Heaven: New Psalms for Healing & Praise
A few words about “interlude” and gathering up “against the unknowns ahead.”
“Against the Unknowns Ahead”
Taking a wide view of the Jewish calendar, we’re in a sort of dip between two peaks: Shavuot, festival of “receiving Torah,” and Simchat Torah, festival of “rejoicing in the Torah.”
For seven weeks, beginning on the second night of Passover, we counted “up” to Shavuot. The next milestone on the calendar, 40 days later, commemorates the incident of the Golden Calf — in other words, our failure to “receive” Torah very well. The Fast of Tammuz (this year: 7/11/17) launches a downward swing with “The Three Weeks” and Tisha B’Av, mourning loss of both Temples and other calamities faced by the Jewish people.
From that lowest point (9 Av, this year: 8/1/17), we begin the climb toward the new year, through the high holidays, Sukkot and, finally, Simchat Torah (this year: 10/13/17).
But right now, we’re still in the 40 days between Shavuot and the Fast of Tammuz. Reading ourselves into the Exodus story: We are still in the early days of liberty from Egyptian slavery; Moses is still on the mountain, obtaining the first tablets, which have yet to be smashed. We know nothing about the Golden Calf or the Spies and the decades of tromping in the desert, realizing the best we can hope for is that the next generation will make it out. Today, still, is about anticipation and hope for immediate changes in the life of our community.
From the vantage point of the Exodus story, this is a great time to “lay aside against the unknowns.” With a view to the Jewish calendar — and to the civic calendar in the U.S. — this is an important interlude to shore up resources for the challenging days ahead.
“When you come…”
The Torah potion Ki Tavo (“When You Come…”; Deut 26:1-29:8) is bookmarked by two fascinating passages: Near the beginning is he passage we read at the Passover seder, recapping our ancestors’ journey and our own through the Exodus; toward the end, we are told that it took forty years for us to understand what happened.
Deuteronomy 26: 5-10
וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב.
And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.
וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה
And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.
וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ,
וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת-לַחֲצֵנוּ
And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.
וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה, מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל–וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים.
And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.
[these two verses are not part of the Haggadah:]
וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ.
And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, יְהוָה;
וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.’ And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God.
Deuteronomy 29: 1-3
וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם:
אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְעֵינֵיכֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לְפַרְעֹה וּלְכָל-עֲבָדָיו, וּלְכָל-אַרְצוֹ
And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them: Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;
הַמַּסּוֹת, הַגְּדֹלֹת, אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ, עֵינֶיךָ–הָאֹתֹת וְהַמֹּפְתִים הַגְּדֹלִים, הָהֵם.
the great trials which thine eyes saw, the signs and those great wonders;
וְלֹא-נָתַן יְהוָה לָכֶם לֵב לָדַעַת, וְעֵינַיִם לִרְאוֹת וְאָזְנַיִם לִשְׁמֹעַ, עַד, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
but the LORD hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.
Shabbat Ki Tavo falls this year between Labor Day, the traditional end of the U.S. “summer vacation” (9/4/17), and Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year (9/21/17). A sort of meta-interlude.
Now, in the interlude of early Tammuz, perhaps we can begin to “gather up sunlight and breezes and rains,” our communities’ stories and our own, in preparation for the travels ahead.