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Balak 2018

Today’s date is actually 17th Tammuz.

If not Shabbat, it would be a Fast day, which is postponed until tomorrow.

17th Tammuz counts as a ‘minor’ Fast, lasting only through the hours of daylight.

It begins the intense period of mourning for both Temples, and other Jewish tragedies, known as the ‘Three Weeks’, which culminate on 9th Av, or Tisha b’Av.

These ‘Three Weeks’ mark the period in Jewish history which led up to the destruction of both Temples. I wonder how many people know anything about 17th Tammuz, let alone actually observe it?

This year, it follows soon after the end of the month of Ramadan, the lunar month in which our Muslim friends and neighbours have fasted for 30 days, from daybreak to nightfall, every day.

My Muslim friends tell me that one of the aims of the month is to attain closeness to God. Modern Jews seem to find this particularly difficult.

As Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopez Cardozo wrote recently in his blog, ‘God is relocating’: “Regrettably, when He [God] enters conventional synagogues. He finds little excitement there. People seem to go through the motions, activate their automatic pilot, do what they are told, say the words in the prayer book, and go home to make Kiddush. Few are asking questions on how to relate to God, why they are Jewish and what their lives really are all about. Many do not want to be confronted with these nasty issues. They only disturb their peace of mind. A nice, conventional dvar Torah is good enough. After all, everything has already been discussed and resolved. Regular synagogue visitors only speak to Him when they need Him, but almost nobody ever speaks about Him or hears Him when He calls for help in pursuing the purpose of His creation.”

In contrast, he suggests, young people in unconventional meetings are asking really important questions, such as: “What is the human condition? What is a religious experience? How do we confront death? What is the meaning of Halacha? What are we Jews doing here in this strange universe?”


Maybe, just maybe, if we do nothing else on 17th Tammuz, we can think about how we could make trying to bring God into our lives a priority?

Doreen Samuels

More documents on this Parshah: