Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 1 July 2017 / 7 Tammuz 5777

Tammuz, Av and Divine Names

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Rodney

Dear Rabbi,

Since the months with holidays are considered “good months”, are the months of Tammuz and Av considered “bad months” since they have days that commemorate the destruction of the Temple?

Dear Rodney,

Since you ask about multiple months, and since there is a lot to discuss, and since the discussion is apropos for the upcoming time period, I’ll respond in multiple segments.

More than the months being either “good” or “bad” because of the holidays that occur in them, according to Jewish thought it is actually the inherent quality of the month which affects that time, and thus gives rise to the types of occurrences in that month.

Thus, for example, the Hebrew months of Adar and Nissan, which have inherent qualities of rejuvenation and redemption, are months whose influence engendered the holidays of Purim and Pesach. Likewise, the months of Tammuz and Av have qualities of restriction and stagnation which, at that time, were a catalyst for catastrophe.

For this reason the Sages taught (Ta’anit 29b) that actions which have potentially divergent outcomes for good or for bad should be initiated in Adar and avoided in Av.

Jewish mystical teachings correlate the qualities of the 12 months with 12 specific permutations of the Divine Name ‘yud’, ‘heh’, ‘vav’ and ‘heh’ (י.ה.ו.ה) as they appear in different verses throughout Tanach, where those verses also express the particular quality of that month. The permutation for Tammuz is ה.ו.ה.י which is formed by the last letters of four consecutive words uttered by the wicked Haman against the righteous Mordechai (Esther 5:13). The permutation for Av is ה.ו.י.ה which is derived from the verse describing the plague of pestilence (Ex. 9:3).

The fact that the letters of G-d’s name of mercy are reversed for these months, as well as the threatening verses from which the names are derived, indicate that the quality of these months is the opposite of mercy, i.e. harsh judgment, as follows:

For Tammuz, the letters of G-d’s name י.ה.ו.ה are completely reversed from beginning to end (ה.ו.ה.י) and emanate from a verse in which the enemy Haman threatens to completely annihilate the Jewish People. This indicates that Tammuz has the quality of harsh judgment from beginning to end, and is the harbinger of evil to come even from the beginning of the month before the 17th of Tammuz.

This corresponds to the observation of the Sages (Ta’anit 29a) that the spies who returned after 40 days on the 9th of Av with their evil report of the Land actually departed on the eve of the first day of Tammuz. They thus went for the wrong reasons, departed under a bad influence, returned with dashed hopes and ended by destroying their connection to the Land — a misfortune we mourn each Tisha b’Av.

For Av, while the verse from which the permutation of Gd’s name (ה.ו.י.ה) for this month is derived bespeaks of plague, the letters begin reversed (ה.ו) but end in order (י.ה). This indicates that while the judgment over the first half of the month is harsh and strict, the month concludes with Divine mercy. In fact, the letters ‘yud’ and ‘heh’ are not only “in order” and connote mercy; their numerical equivalent is 15. This reveals that the second half of G-d’s name for this month literally correlates to the last 15 days of Av, and corresponds to the teaching of the Talmud which states (Ta’anit 26b), “There are no greater days for the People of Israel like the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur”.

Accordingly, the 15th of Av (i.e. the ‘yud’-‘heh’ of Av), corresponds to a restoration of Divine mercy in preparation for the 40-day penitential period which includes the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance, culminating with the forgiveness of Yom Kippur. This rectifies the sin of the 40-day sojourn of the spies, and explains more deeply the above-mentioned connection of joy between the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, which together return Divine mercy and love between G-d and the Jewish People.

In the coming discussion we’ll explore which of the zodiac signs, the Hebrew letters, the human senses and the Hebrew Tribes are related to and influence the quality of these months.


  • Bnei Yisaschar, on Tammuz and Av, section1, by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira (c. 1783-1841) of Dinov, Galicia, Poland
  • For the 12 permutations of G-d’s name corresponding to the 12 months of the year based on the Tikunei Zohar and Arizal, see the end of the middle section of the musaf prayer for Rosh Chodesh as printed in most siddurim.

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