We’re All Broken Vessels – The 17th of Tammuz

Based on a lecture By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller which can be found here.

The first major tragedy in history was when Adam ate the fruit and internalized confusion. Prior to that sin, confusion was external, but after the sin the confusion was internalized. Man went from an objective reality of true and false to an often confused subjective reality of good and evil.

Much of the negativity in the world is due to this confusion, where collective mankind brings upon itself tragedies such as hunger, poverty and war. This is the negative side of free choice and these tragedies result from our confusion. If we had G-d awareness, we would be able to get past these tragedies. If we had a strong sense of G-d’s presence, confused negative traits like selfishness, violence, cruelty and abusiveness would not exist.

After the first sin, G-d withdrew His presence from the world, but it was restored by people such as Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov until a full awareness of G-d was acheived at Sinai. So how did the people worship the golden calf shortly thereafter?

Nobody thought the golden calf was the creator of the world. Nobody creates an idol in the morning and thinks that it created him in the afternoon. The golden calf was representative of the powers of nature and strength, it was a representation of G-d. What is so bad about this? What’s so bad about idol worship is that we were created to elevate ourselves. Idol worship brings G-d down to man instead of man rising up to G-d. When we try to make G-d small, we fail as humans, we stop moving upwards. This lack of spiritual ambition was the second great tragedy.

Many people today are not intellectually confused, they are spiritually lost. They don’t see the value of becoming “big”. When we build golden calves we weaken spiritual ambition and cause spiritual diminishment.

When Moshe came down from Sinai on the 17th of Tammuz and saw the Golden Calf, he smashed the tablets. The Midrash says the tablets were very huge and the letters of the tablets carried the weight of the stone, the spirit carried the body. When he saw the golden calf, the spirit was gone and all that was left was stone, so the tablets fell under their own weight and were smashed.

Today we live in a world of rampant materialism and foreign lifestyles. It is a world where spirit is gone and what is left is stone. This is one reason why we fast today.

The next significant event is that the sacrifices were stopped before the destruction of the temple. Even during the siege of Yerushalayim, the Jews would offer sacrifices. They would send down money over the wall and an animal would be sent up. One day they sent down money and a pig was sent up. It was at that point that the sacrifices stopped.

Today, many of us have trouble with sacrifices both emotionally and intellectually. But most of us have no problem using animals for food or for leather. We are fine with exploiting animals for our physical purposes, but if we talk about using an animal for spiritual means it becomes barbaric and ridiculous. This is because we have stone and we don’t have spirit, we can relate to eating, but we can’t relate to worship.

Animal sacrifice is a way of experientially relating to G-d. The person offering the sacrifice had to put their hand on the animal, saying I am mortal, I came from you and I will return to you. It was an extremely powerful way of relating to G-d. The reason we’re concerned about the day the sacrifices stopped is because of what it says about it. The fact that the temple could be destroyed is an example of spirit turning to stone and the animal sacrifices being another symptom.

The other tragedies on this day were the Torah was burned, an idol was brought into the temple and the walls of Yerushalayim were breached, leading to the destruction on the 9th of Av. When we talk about losing the Temple, it’s hard to grasp what that means. The temple was called a mountain by Avraham, a field by Yitzchak and a house by Yaakov. A house is a place where you can personally express yourself. For a Jew, personal self-expression means putting back spirit where there is only stone. The Beis Hamikdash was a place where spiritual experience was a part of physical experience, it wasn’t two different worlds like it is today.

We can’t relate to what we are missing in the temple experience, because we have never met anybody who met anybody who met anybody who saw the Jewish people when our major identity was spirit and not stone. We don’t know who we are anymore.

What does this have to do with us personally? When we think about what gives our life joy it comes down to two things, triumph and love. If we think about our happiest moment, there is no doubt there is triumph and love. Triumph and love only happen when spirit is greater than stone. Our world is very banal and grey and the only thing that allows us to rise above this physical existence is the moments of triumph and achievement that are truly spiritual that come to us through the mitzvos.

The 17th of Tammuz is a personal day when we have to do an accounting of our soul, a cheshbon nefesh. We have to figure where we are, where we want to be, where we want to be next year. What do we want people to say about us in the end, how would we want today to look if it was our last day? It’s a heavy day, it’s meant to be heavy.

In addition to looking at this personally, we have an obligation to look at this collectively. Collectively, we are not in such great shape, especially in regard to events in the Middle East. We are all collectively responsible for the state we are in.

Today we have to say, can we be the person we talk about every day in the Shema? Can we love G-d with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our possessions? Do we live up to the ideal of spirit over rock. G-d has promised us that when we live up to our potential, He will give us the land and He will give us peace. When we fail, we are expelled. This is what we say in the Shema, if we serve Hashem with our heart and our soul we will get blessings. But be careful that your heart is not seduced. We can’t let our emotions lead us to choosing the physical over the spiritual. This will lead us to worshipping and serving other G-ds, our own private golden calves. We all know at least one person who is enslaved to their ego, or their income or their career. This is personal enslavement. When we reach that state of enslavement, G-d will expel us from the land, because He cares for us. G-d on his side wants to give, but do we want to receive?

Fasting has two purposes to move us away from the physical and to recognize our fraility. We move away from the physical pleasure, specifically eating which is a big part of our life. As it gets late in the day, many of us will ask, when is the fast over. We will be concerned about the phyisical. This need for the physical reminds us that we are frail and we are physical. Part of raising the spiritual over the physical is being forgiving of each other. The more we are aware of our own fraility, the easier it is to remember that every person we encounter is a member of the brotherhood of the frail. Everybody else faces the physical and gratification struggles that we do. We need to forgive them like we want G-d to forgive us.

In the time of the sacrifices in Shilo, after pottery vessels were used for libations, they had to be broken within sight of the alter. After coming in to possession of some of these pottery shards, Rebbetzin Heller realized that these shards were pieces of someone else’s Teshuva. She sent some of these shards to a friend in the States who had suffered some great losses. She asked her what she thought about the shards. Her friend told her, “We’re all broken vessels”.

Once we see everybody as a broken vessel, we can forgive them, we can love them, we can let what we see of their spirit overcome what we see of their stone. This is the key that will help us overcome the destruction that we find ourselves in now. This is the way the Third Temple will be built.


First Posted on July 3rd, 2007

23 comments on “We’re All Broken Vessels – The 17th of Tammuz

  1. Rabbi Shimon Schwab (born in Germany in 1908, died in USA in 1993) once noted, with great consternation, the JEW entry in his edition of Webster’s Dictionary included in its definition terms such as: cheater, hard bargainer, and the like.

    Sadly, the term JEW has become synonymous with dishonesty and guile.

    In fact, the word JEW is also used as a verb: “Jew him down” means to persistently bargain or haggle.

    Rabbi Schwab remarked that the redemption cannot come until this definition is taken out of the dictionary and phased out of the vernacular.

    When the term JEW becomes synonymous with pristine honesty, with stellar character, with courteous manners and amiability, we will know we are ready for the redemption.

    SOURCE: article by Rabbi Eli Mansour, Community Magazine, January 2009, page 18

  2. Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, chelek mitzvot aseh, mitzvah 74:

    I have already lectured to the exiles of Jerusalem in Spain and to the other exiles in Europe [Edom]:

    Since our exile has been lengthened greatly, Israel must separate from the empty things of this world and grab the seal of The Holy One Blessed Be He, which is truth. They must not lie to Jews or Gentiles, and not mislead them [the Gentiles] in any way. They [Jews] must sanctify themselves even in things that are permitted to them, as it is written [in Tanach]:

    “THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL WILL NOT DO INJUSTICE AND WILL NOT SPEAK FALSEHOOD AND DECEPTION WILL NOT BE FOUND IN THEIR MOUTHS” (Tzefaniah, chapter 3, verse 13).

    And when The Holy One Blessed Be He comes to save them, the Gentiles will say:

    “It is done justly, because they [Jews] are people of truth and the Torah of truth is in their mouths.”

    But if they behave deceptively with the Gentiles, then they [the Gentiles] will say:

    “Look at what The Holy One Blessed Be He did:
    He chose thieves and deceivers for His portion [chelko]!”

    NOTE: Rabbi Eli J. Mansour interprets this to mean that the messiah [
    mashiach
    ] cannot come until the Jewish people earn a reputation for honesty among the Gentiles.

    MICROBIOGRAPHY: Rabbi Moses ben Jacob of Coucy was a French Tosafist who studied under Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid. He was alive in year 1242 of the Common Era when all Talmud manuscripts in France were confiscated and burned.

  3. Many Kohanim feel that they are preparing for the arrival of Moshiach by learning the hilchos of the avodah in the Bais HaMikdash so that they will be ready for resumption of their priestly duties in the Third Temple. Nobody is really sure whether all of the sacrifices will resume or just a few of them or none of them.

  4. DK-on the subject on animal sacrifices and their purpose, see Ramban on Vayikra 1:9, the introduction of the Meshech Chachmah to Vayikra and RYBS in Al HaTeshuva and elsewhere on the purpose of sacrifice.

    I would also suggest that yours and any other interested reader’s Tishah B’Av would be enhanced by the recently released Kinos with commentary by RYBS that was published by the OU/Koren and R Nevenzal’s Sichos, etc on this time of the year.

  5. DK,

    Is it possible that you misread part of the OP? I’m wondering how you extrapolated this:

    “The Akeidas Yitzchak itself suggests that animal sacrifices are a replacement for human sacrifices. Should we miss those as well? Should we look at those cultures which had but no longer have human sacrifices as less spiritual, on a lower level, as having gone from spiritual to stone? Or as normative cultures ceased human sacrifice, did our own animal sacrifices becomes less necessary? Could one say that perhaps the point of or animal sacrifices was to stop human sacrifice generally, at least in the more advanced civilizations, and that this succeeded in part because of our efforts, and that now our own animal sacrifices have been obviated?”

    from this:

    “We are fine with exploiting animals for our physical purposes, but if we talk about using an animal for spiritual means it becomes barbaric and ridiculous. This is because we have stone and we don’t have spirit, we can relate to eating, but we can’t relate to worship.”

    Or are you providing your own view of animal sacrifices, unrelated to Rebbetzin Heller’s point of worship/spirituality as related to animal sacrifices?

  6. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Shelach, chapter 14:

    G-d commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in order to publicize the loyalty of Abraham.

    Tanna DeBei Eliyahu Raba, Chapter 7, End of Last Paragraph (22):

    The Holy One Blessed Be He did NOT intend that Yitzchak be slaughtered or offered, only that he be brought up to the mountain, to test him [Abraham].

  7. The article said “The first major tragedy in history was when Adam ate the fruit and internalized confusion.” Isn’t this the second major tragedy? Chava ate it first.

  8. I’m thinking of the time before Adam and Chava first sinned. They had a capability to sin even then. In Mashiach’s time will humanity be at Adam and Chava’s original level, or higher?

  9. bob

    my understanding (as always, somewhat limited) is that in the time of moshiach, things are going to be very different.

    G-d’s presence will be clearly revealed in the world, so sin is just not an issue in the way it is today.

    but you make a good point about the holiday sacrifices – i don’t know. but if you think about the underlying meaning for each holiday – eg, teshuva (rosh hashana / YK); appreciation of how fragile existance is and how dependent we are on Hashem (succot) etc – again, these could all be things that are permanently ‘fixed’ by Moshiach coming.

  10. Aren’t these also expected to resume (if not, why not?):

    Korban Pesach

    Korban Tamid

    Public sin offerings that are scheduled for specific times of year

  11. …meaning that we need different “models” or explanations for animal sacrifices for (1) sins and (2) other than sins.

  12. i think this is a great post – and it sums up a lot of very pertinent issues facing the jewish world today.

    yasher koach to the writer.

    seperately, my understanding is that when we get the third temple and sacrifices resume, the only sacrifice we’ll need to make in any case is the korban todah – it’s a given that we’ll only see beit hamikdash III when Moshiach is here, and if Moshiach is here, we won’t be sinning anyway, just being grateful to Hashem…

  13. Bob Miller wrote,

    “HaShem rejected Kayin’s sacrifice not because it was vegetable but because it was not the best quality of vegetable available, which showed Kayin’s imperfect intentions despite his originality.”

    They will have to be organic in Messianic days. No doubt.

    “Human sacrifice was a later aberration introduced when mankind in general decayed into polytheism, idol worship, etc.”

    Then why did it stop? Doesn’t gentile and Jewish society always go down, and never up, according to haredism? Or do you tie to the desire for avodah zorah somehow, which according to legend the gedolim took away?

    “He said that our proper attitudes would be restored as part of the redemption process.”

    Then it’s really nothing to worry about too much right now, correct?

    Chaim G wrote,

    “Last time I checked Litvaks say these prayers as well (though IIRC German for the reformers these were the first prayers to be excised from the siddur). How do YOU say and/or understand these prayers?”

    There are definitely prayers I don’t really relate to, and others which the apologists explanations ring as forced. If they all makes sense to you, well, that’s great. Not every prayer speaks to me or even makes sense to me.

  14. Whoops. My bad. Read “himself” where DK wrote “itself”. I’d still like a response to my second question though.

  15. First Kayin and then Hevel offered the original sacrifices, which were vegetable and animal, respectively. These two offerings were entirely voluntary, an expression of dependence on and gratitute to HaShem.

    HaShem rejected Kayin’s sacrifice not because it was vegetable but because it was not the best quality of vegetable available, which showed Kayin’s imperfect intentions despite his originality.

    Human sacrifice was a later aberration introduced when mankind in general decayed into polytheism, idol worship, etc.

    The idea of human sacrifice was just as incomprehensible to ancient monotheists—Avraham Avinu, Shem, and their associates—as it is to us, which made the Akedah all the more fearsome as a test.

    I once asked my Rav how we could recapture our enthusiasm for the korbanos once the Beis HaMikdash is restored (speedily in our days!). He said that our proper attitudes would be restored as part of the redemption process.

  16. Chaim G,

    I believe DK meant that the event of the Akeidas Yitzchak, not Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, the mechaber of the sefer Akeidas Yitzchak, intimates Dk’s point.

  17. The Akeidas Yitzchak itself suggests that animal sacrifices are a replacement for human sacrifices.

    I’d be fascinated in looking this up. Could you please provide a mareh makom?

    Should we miss those as well?

    Our siddurim are replete with prayers for the return of animal sacrfices and meal offerings. Not a single prayer requests the institution of human sacrifice.

    Last time I checked Litvaks say these prayers as well (though IIRC German for the reformers these were the first prayers to be excised from the siddur). How do YOU say and/or understand these prayers?

  18. – The word foreign was in reference to foreign to what Judaism is about, particularly hedonistic and materialistic-centered lifestyles.

    – It should probably read spirit being overwhelmed by stone, meaning spirituality being overwhelmed by physicality.

    – There are multiple opinions on what G-d’s reason for instituting sacrifices were.

    This falls into the realm of Taamei HaMitzvos (the reason for mitzvahs) and multiple opinions can be correct in this realm. Something can have multiple purposes.

    In the above article, Rebbetzin Heller is stressing the experiential effect of sacrifices.

  19. “Today we live in a world of …foreign lifestyle.”

    We always lived in a world of “foreign lifestyles.” We never lived isolated from other cultures. A simple look at a map will reveal that the Land of Israel was clearly well traveled by others. It is the only ways to get from Africa to Asia and the reverse on land, the borders were always porous, and we know they influenced our culture and lifestyle.

    “The fact that the temple could be destroyed is an example of spirit turning to stone and the animal sacrifices being another symptom.”

    This makes no sense to me at all. Spirit does not turn to stone. Perhaps some kind person please explain this into language a Litvak can understand.

    “We are fine with exploiting animals for our physical purposes, but if we talk about using an animal for spiritual means it becomes barbaric and ridiculous.”

    The Akeidas Yitzchak itself suggests that animal sacrifices are a replacement for human sacrifices. Should we miss those as well? Should we look at those cultures which had but no longer have human sacrifices as less spiritual, on a lower level, as having gone from spiritual to stone? Or as normative cultures ceased human sacrifice, did our own animal sacrifices becomes less necessary? Could one say that perhaps the point of or animal sacrifices was to stop human sacrifice generally, at least in the more advanced civilizations, and that this succeeded in part because of our efforts, and that now our own animal sacrifices have been obviated?

  20. Thank you for this post.
    It may seem bizarre, but I am very grateful for the 3 weeks (not for the events that occurred), because I find that the topics of interest in the atmosphere become more real; like the masks are pulled away. Some of the best shiurim I’ve heard are the previous years’ Chofetz Chaim Foundation Tisha B’Av tapes. It appears that this year’s topic will be, as you brought up in this post, looking at our neighbors through kinder eyes.

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