The Jewish Month of Tammuz: Joy and Pain (like sunshine, what else, and rain)



Sixth grade (stay with me on this metaphor people): a time of unsurpassed joy and excruciating pain. In my first year teaching public school I was handed, sixth grade. I used to tell people, “They are feeling things they’ve never felt before, they’re thinking things they never thought before. Hormones are intense.”

Teaching sixth grade for the first time is only comparable to being in sixth grade for the first time, lemme tell ya. We talked about gender, racism, death and, how to format an essay. (Oh the wrath of the formatted essay!) My own experience of sixth grade included my first need for deodorant, heavy acne and accidental discharge; among other perils! All of which to say, Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock’s song (which they sampled from Maze), Joy and Pain that came out the year I entered sixth grade, 1989, was deeply appropriate.

What you might ask does sixth grade have to do with the month of Tammuz?!

In the U.S. it is now summertime. Freedom from (for many of us as youth) the confines of public school and wide open time. But for many, as hurtful as public schooling can be, it also provides a structure and a summer without structure can be confusing, at best.

Our ability to feel pain is matched to our ability to feel joy.

It's all about joy and pain. But it's kind of more about pain right now. Tammuz is the Hebrew month of mourning. The time traditional Jews remember Jerusalem's walls falling to Rome and enter a three week period of mourning. To those of us who had summer's off from school as youth, it might seem counterintuitive to associate summer with a time of mourning. But the time without structure and long hot days did have pain in it, for some of us.

Think about it. The depth of summer: the rose petals fall to the ground, the stream beds dry up, we ache for cold drinks to quench our thirst, our bodies want nothing more than the relief of ocean, river, lake. There's a lot of unsatisfied yearning and potentially, pain. 

On my walks around the neighborhood I've been stopping to smell the last of the roses. Oh that smell and it's encroaching disappearance! I want to collect all the fallen petals and save them, for something! This impetus reminds me of the blown glass vessels of Roman times, tear catchers. The petals are like teardrops to save in a bottle.

In Roman times tear catchers were all the rage and in Victorian times they made a comeback. As a former glass blower (yes, in my past life I was a glass blower) these little blown vessels to hold our tears (with special seals so the tears would evaporate!) are an intriguing analogy to the month of Tammuz. In this time of mourning we have the opportunity to collect our tears, our emotions of grief. The heat of summer is like the special seal on the vessel; allowing the tears to dry up, to evaporate. As the grief leaves us, we are left with the salt of our tears. And what is salt but the key to bringing out the most potent flavor of life?

My Blessing For You: May the angels of sunlight and the angels of tears comfort you as you let the pain exist and transform, as it falls away. 

Card for the Month:
Cycles: (TSI-klen, Yiddish)


"Day / Night

Death / Rebirth

Fall / Winter / Spring / Summer

-excerpt from the Moon Angel / Malakh Halevanah book, Cycles #18

In this time of summer we are harvesting and preserving fruit, hanging like sagging boobs from the trees. It's right there, wanting to be picked, to be licked, to be tasted. There is deep satisfaction in the devouring of ripe fruit. But there is also sadness as we watch the trees empty.

Easy come, easy go.

Some of the ripe, rotting fruits also drop to the ground, never touching our lips. But the earth absorbs the nutrients, the animals eat those fruits. They then poop out the seeds and a new plant begins its next life.

What goes, comes again, what dies is reborn. There must be death for there to be birth. Take it easy dear people of the earth. You get lots of chances, lots of turnings, lots of seasons. Let yourself go through the whole cycle. Please.

Happy Summer.