A Message for this Season

Dear Friends,
Today, the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz, begins a three-week period of contemplation and spiritual renewal. During this period, we remember the loss of our Temple and other related tragedies, past and current, for we wish to rediscover the true purpose of our people in the sacred land of Zion. This period of contemplation and renewal concludes with “Tisha B'Av” - the Fast of the Ninth of Av. On Tisha B'Av, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. 
The 17th of Tamuz is a fast day, and the purpose of all our fast days is expressed in the Hebrew word “teshuvah” -  a process of spiritual renewal. The root of this Hebrew word is “shuv” - return, as through this process of renewal, we return to the Compassionate One. Through this process, we also return to our true selves, for we are created in the Divine Image, with the capacity to emulate the Divine love, compassion,  justice, and holiness to the best of our human abilities.
As the headlines indicate, we are living in a period of immediate danger. Someone might say that during this dangerous period, we do not have the ability to engage in teshuvah, as we have other priorities. The Prophets of Israel, however, disagree with this view. They stressed that periods of great danger are meant to serve as a Divine wake-up call for personal and collective teshuvah. They also stressed that we should not rely on our military and economic strength to save us, for our true strength comes from the Compassionate One Who took us out of Egypt, gave us the Torah, and brought us to the Promised Land for a spiritual and universal purpose.  We will therefore review some excerpts from the haftorah - portion from the Prophets - that we read on the 17th of Tamuz and on most other fast days. These excerpts proclaim a loving Divine call for teshuvah, as well as a loving Divine message of hope:
“Seek the Compassionate One in His readiness to be found, call upon Him, for He is indeed near. Let the wicked one forsake his way and the iniquitous person his thoughts; let him return to the Compassionate One Who will have compassion on him; to our God Who is abundantly forgiving. For My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways - spoke the Compassionate One. As high as the heavens over the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For just as the rain and snow descend from heaven and will not return there without having refreshed the earth, fructified it, and furthered its growth that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall be My word that emanates from My mouth: It will not return to Me unfulfilled without having accomplished what I desired and having brought success to where I sent it. For in joy shall you go out and in shalom shall you arrive; the mountains and the hills will break out in glad song before you, and the trees of the field will clap hands.” (Isaiah 55: 6-12)
In the next brief excerpt, we are reminded of certain Torah precepts that are central to the process of our teshuvah, including “tzedakah” – the sharing of our resources with those in need, and the mitzvah of Shabbos - a mitzvah which reminds us that the earth and its resources belong to the Compassionate One:
“Thus said the Compassionate One: Guard justice and do tzedakah, for My salvation is soon to come and My tzedekah to be revealed. Happy is the person who does this and the person who grasps it tightly; who guards the Shabbos against desecrating it and guards his hand against doing any evil.” (56:1,2)  
In the next excerpt, we find messages of hope for converts, as well as for people who are unable to have children. The converts who accept the Covenant of Torah and its path of mitzvos may wonder if they have a role in the renewal of our people, since they seem to lack roots in the Jewish past. Those without children may wonder if they have a role in the renewal of our people, since they seem to have no share in the Jewish future, as they have not been able to continue the chain of generations. Through the following words of the prophet, the Compassionate One responds to these concerns:
“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Compassionate One, speak, saying, ‘The Compassionate One will utterly separate me from His people’; and let not the barren one say, ‘Behold I am a shriveled tree.’ For thus said the Compassionate One to the barren ones who observe My Shabboses and choose what I desire, and grasp My covenant tightly: In My house and within My walls I will give them a place of honor and renown, which is better than sons and daughters; eternal renown will I give them, which will never be terminated. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Compassionate One to serve Him and to love the Name of the Compassionate One to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Shabbos against desecration, and grasp My covenant tightly - I will bring them to My Sacred Mountain, and I will gladden them in My House of Prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a House of Prayer for all the peoples. Thus said the Master of all, the Compassionate and Just One, Who gathers in the dispersed of Israel: I shall yet gather others unto His gathered ones.” (56:3-8)
As the above excerpt indicates, the rebuilt Temple will be known as a “House of Prayer for all the peoples” - not only for converts who join our people, but for all the peoples who will make the pilgrimage to Zion. During this period of renewal, we are to remember that there will be a universal Divine “harvest” in Zion, as the Compassionate One will gather other peoples together with “His gathered ones” - the People of Israel.
The current headlines are reflecting a reality which is far removed from this vision. These headlines should not cause us to despair, for the above vision will become the reality! As the Compassionate One proclaimed:
“For there is yet another hazon - vision - for the appointed time; it will speak of the end and it will not deceive. Though it may tarry, await it, for it will surely come; it will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:3)
May we have a healing and strengthening Shabbos.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
Related Teachings:
1. Converts have roots in the Jewish past, as our forefathers and foremothers become their spiritual parents. In fact, when a convert is given a Hebrew name, he or she is also called a son or daughter of Avraham and Sarah. For example, a female convert who takes the name “Ruth” is called “Ruth, the daughter of Avraham and Sarah.”  As Maimonides wrote in his famous letter to Ovadiah, the convert, “Avraham, our father, peace be upon him, is your father!”
2. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld was a leading sage of Jerusalem who was known for his love of the Jewish people and all humanity. During his efforts to make peace between Arabs and Jews, he described Zion as, “the Holy Land to which God affords special supervision, from which blessing emanates to the rest of the world, and in which God's prophets foresaw the future happiness of all humanity.” (Guardian of Jerusalem, p. 456)
The Guardian of Jerusalem is a moving biography of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld and a history of Jewish life in Zion during the 19th and early 20th centuries. For information on this book, visit:


Hazon - Our Universal Vision