Away from Catastrophe and Toward Redemption

Click here for the text in Hebrew.

Thirty years ago, Reb Zalman, while in the holy Land, composed this piece for Shabbos M’vorchim Tammuz. He weaves together themes for the month into a powerful prayer for repairing the world. Here are the themes:

  • Soon will be Rosh Chodesh Tammuz and on the seventeenth day we begin the three weeks of mourning remembering the destruction of the holy Temple.
  • In parashat Shelach lecha we read about the men who spy out the Land and whose report makes the people want to return to Egypt.
  • The mnemonic used to remember the divine name permutation for Tammuz: (Esther 5:13) “This is worthless to me,” spelling HVHY, the reverse of YHVH.
    • Here’s the scene: Haman leaves the palace and passes Mordechai sitting there. Mordechai‘s presence disturbs Haman to such an extent that he cannot enjoy his successes.
  • The month’s sign of the zodiac and its traditions:
    • Sign: Cancer the crab
    • Middah: Yesod
    • Element: Water
    • Theme: Housewife and Family
    • Letter: Chet
    • Sense: Hearing

When we bless the Rosh Chodesh, we pray for something better to come. If we can make the dramatic move from catastrophes of the churban, the spies’ report and Haman to a vision of redemption, then more modest moves such as individual petitions may feel more doable as well.

Spending time in the imaginal realm helps to increase the feeling of God’s presence and strengthens a God-field in this plane. The individual  enriches himself through thinking about and meditating on the metaphors, the symbols, the images embedded in this time in the calendar.

We want to be able to move in positive directions away from catastrophe and toward redemption.

The text says Shlach L’cha Anoshim / Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land (Number 13:2). Let’s leave this thread hanging for now…


Heh Vav Heh Yod:  The Ari z’l had a special kavvanah for the brachah recited during the Mussaf prayers of Rosh Chodesh in which he would meditate on a permutation of God’s name. (B’nai Yissachar Maamrei Rosh Chodesh Nissan Maamar 1). What was he doing by switching around the letters?

Yod Heh Vav Heh (YHVH) is the name we typically use when we Davven. Each letter is associated with a different world: Yod:Atzilut Heh:Beriyah Vav:Yetzira Heh:Assiyah.

YHVH is a name and it functions as a partzuf/interface for connecting to God. A name for God is a Partzuf, a godhead, a place or theme inside that feels in the direction of something we might call divine. It is aspects within ourselves that move us in God’s direction. When you tap into these aspects of divinity and connect to them then you also are connected to the living God.

By doing a permutation on the letters and switching things around, the interface changes. And so by meditating each month on another permutation, we give ourselves a new partzuf, a new interface which enriches our spiritual connection to God.

If we look at the name for this month in sequence, HVHY, it matches the way we sometimes talk about how we davven Shacharit.

      • Birchot hashachar takes us through the world of Assiyah (final Heh).
      • Next, we begin the Pesukai d’Zimrah and move from the level of sensation to the level of feelings, the world of Yetzirah, (Vav).
      • The Shema and its blessings are associated with the level of the intellect, the world of Beriyah , (upper Heh).
      • The Amidah  is associated with the level of spirit, the world of Atzilut (Yod). 

Another way to look at Heh Vav Heh Yod is from the tradition of the I-Ching. It is young Yang, young Yin, old Yang, old Yin.

All the levels are with us simultaneously. For example, our sensations will be with us after we move from Birchot hashachar into Pesukei d’Zimrah. We’re just shifting our attention to different aspects. But every aspect is there at the same time, e.g., the world of Beriyah is there when we’re doing birkot hashachar.

By changing the order of the letters YHVH, it changes the order of attention, and thereby mixes and matches, broadening and enriching our connections to the divine. If we can spend some time navigating all the different spellings and understanding the different ways that one feels when we are connecting through the permutated letters to the divine, then we will broaden the God field and enrich our own spiritual and internal inner-space.


Think of the chayot hakodesh / holy animals, angels, as the Zodiac/Zoo-diac and the month of Tammuz comes at the time of Cancer the Crab.

We enrich our inner work when we meditate on other sources as well.

The months have a Sefirah associated with them and the Sefirah for Tammuz is Yesod. One way to think of Yesod is to imagine the supernal Temple that tradition says is in heaven and lined up with the Temple in Jerusalem. There’s a portal between worlds to the heavenly temple and Yesod is the point of connection between heaven and earth.

The housewifeAkeret habayit, is, on one level, the one who’s responsible for the running of the home and the family. On another level, if we take the bayit / home in the sense of the holy Temple, she is the one whose dibbur, whose strong, well-chosen, impactful words, leads to the redemption of the world. She listens deeply (hearing) and then speaks what should be done.


Was it God’s will that the spies came back with an evil report? Was it God’s will for the destruction of the beis hamikdash to happen? Was it God’s will for Haman to try to kill the Jews? Was the Holocaust God’s will?

All of these occurred through God’s Adnut / mastery over the world. But God’s Adnut is tied to our own responsibility.

We’re responsible for our actions, whether good or evil. Therefore, Moses prayed (Numbers 14:7), “may the power of Adonay be increased” which can be understood as, “may each of us  learn how to exercise his own part in the responsibility for healing the Shechinah“. Through the power of dibbur / speech,

NOTE: Adnut is on the level of Malchut and NukvahMalchut corresponds to Peh / mouth and Peh creates dibbur / speech.

the healing will come. We need to grow a vision of Tikkun and then exercise our ability to have influence on the world through dibbur / speech which can effect change. When the strength of dibbur is weakened, then we feel like victims, closed in our Midbar / wasteland and locked into a reality not of our choosing. In order to free ourselves from Pharaoh, and to have the liberation from our closed Midaber / speaking, we need a Peh Sach / open mouthed liberation (Pri etz chayimShaar Mikra kodesh 80:4).

The spies moved us away from taking responsibility. Hashem had given us an eretz together with a covenant which, on our side, was that we should perform Mitzvot. As a part of inheriting the Land, we were to also take on ethical behaviors and laws of purity for which there is a great deal of cautioning in the Torah about correct behavior.

When the Em HaBanim S’mecha / the mother with children is happy, then the Nukvah / female  (also, Malchut – dibbur / speech, i.e. mouth) opens up and nurtures and the Shechinah returns, comes back to Her holy temple. This is on the level of Puah, the midwife, (Exodus 1:15). Puah will assist, as she did long ago, to bring about the redemption through her dibbur / speech and expression of what’s right, poah: using her cajoling and coo-ing words to comfort the children (ibid, Rashi) and help us through the birth pangs and travails of new paradigms. She was rewarded by God for rescuing the Jewish babes and her reward was God’s making her and Shifra “houses” (ibid 1:21), i.e., the Beit hamikdash (lit. the sanctified house). When her dibbur is strong, then women won’t have to “weep for Tammuz” any more because, the world will be redeemed and (Proverbs 12:4), the eshet chayil, the woman who has undertaken this redemption ateret baalah, will be her husband’s (God’s) crown. 

Ultimately, we want the world to be redeemed, we want it to be a better place, we want God’s presence (Shechinah) to be a part of it and if we can open our mouths in prayer and choose words that reflect ethical and morally sound behavior, then we can bring about change, the transformation, the next chapter in the history of the world. Here, the male is the receiver and the female is the nurturer. Unfortunately, many men have barriers to receiving the messages from openhearted, strong and loving women.

And since the Holy Temple was destroyed, some of the methods of raising mayim nukvin / our longings sent toward God (lit. feminine waters), were removed. In the time of the Temple, for those sitting at a table and eating of a meal of Korbonim / offerings, the ritual of animal sacrifice helped intensify feelings in God’s direction. The longing of their hearts would ascend with each taste of that sacrificial meal of holiness and the same was true for other now discontinued practices. In addition, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 75a) speaks of how the sexual act was another form of prayer that sent a kind of a longing in God’s direction, that couples who were engaged in this act during the times when the beis hamikdash was in operation would send to God their longing and their desires to be close to God and so the ateret was baalah, the crown was for her husband (at the time of the beit hamikdash, we were more focused on God during sex) and the experience of having sex had God in the picture in a more direct way thereby  connecting our most intimate and intensely pleasurable moments to our petitions and longings to be better people and to have a better world. For us now, living in a world where Shechinah is in exile, we have to work harder to raise the mayin nukvin.


And Haman the wicked despite his having had much, (as  Esau, who said, “I have plenty,” Genesis 33:9), there did not seem enough for him because of the flaw in his neshama, that “all this is worthless to me,” for he wasn’t satisfied when there was someone else satisfied other than he. Haman wanted to be the only one “that the king delighteth to honor.”

In a shattered world, an unredeemed world, in a world in which we mourn the loss of holiness, we are on the level of Haman who was unsatisfied with what he had. It doesn’t matter what gifts or what honors or what responsibilities the King gives us, everything just looks as if it’s worthless. And so it’s very easy to be dejected. Both Haman and the spies could have had treasures and good fortune but they did not appreciate what they had. Both were given riches and responsibilities by respective kings and they conducted themselves as though none of it was of value.

But in contrast, a sense of holiness is infectious. We are better off learning a lesson from the Angels. All of them lovingly give permission one to the other. When one of them calls to the other, “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” then others who are also looking in God’s direction are excited to hear the call and are not disheartened or jealous or upset. It supports and intensifies their own desire to sanctify their Creator for the point of name sanctifications is a delight it brings to the King’s honored ones.

And this, too, was the spies’ sin, that they sent out slander about the eretz / Land saying that the Land consumes its inhabitants (Numbers 13:32). For the Land, too, is connected to holiness — Genesis 2:4 where it is written, “On the day that Hashem Elokim made eretz / earth and heaven” which is YHVH‘s Malchut backwards

NOTE: God created the shamayim and the aretz, but here the order is switched, earth first, heaven second.

and as reflected in the tziruf / permutation for the month, Heh Vav Heh Yod,

Just as the letter Heh, the final Heh in the partzuf Heh Vav Heh Yod is a starting point to take us up to the highest places, so will our recognition of the holiness of the  Land take us up to the highest sanctifications

at which time, (Psalms 113:9), Eim habanaim semecha, our mother the Earth is so blessed at this time of year, so happy to be filled with bounties of ripening fruits, so prolific in the power of Tammuz.

And, in addition to all the other mitzvot that we have anywhere we live, with the Land and its fruits comes the opportunity to perform some special mitzvot, requirements only if one is in the Land, thereby creating an extra, special connection to God. And according to Rabbi Schneur Zalman, we learn that one of the reasons why the spies discouraged everyone from going in was that they weren’t interested in connecting to God through Mitzvahs; they were just focused on something ready-made, something that God was providing with the Manna and Miriam’s well. They were not aware that if they would perform the mitzvot and access a sense of holiness, praying for “the early rain and the late rain” which depend on the merit of performing the Mitzvot, that this would lead to a sense of joy and appreciation. And they preferred placing themselves under the guidance of the clouds of glory that led them through the Angel of fire and the Angel of cloud. And they wondered what would be the satisfaction of plowing and harvesting which would be completely on them so that they would say, (Deuteronomy 8:17) that “[it is] my strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me,” thereby ignoring their connection to God and holiness.

But the Holy One of Blessing desires that there be a dwelling place for Him in the lower worlds and He had desired the speech of Joshua and Caleb, (Numbers 14:7) “the Land is good mi-od mi-od / very exceedingly.” But according to Onkelos who translated there, “ad la-chada la-chada“, we get that the appreciation of the Land will take a person to yechidah shebnefesh, to the holiness of the One that is within a person’s nefesh.

So therefore, when the Torah said, “send anoshim“, it meant, “send the mensch-es,” the ones with integrity and honor, independent, free from accepting bribes, so that the people can rely on them, viYaTuRu / who will scout the Land, i.e. that they will study the ToRah of the Land to bring the Torah inside the earth’s ways, to understand the awesome responsibility of the Land, to get from the final Heh on the level of the land and rise up to the holiness of the Yod on the level of the highest heavens, turning their experience of the Land into a way of connecting to and praising God.

May this upcoming month of Tammuz be a time of blessing for you and for yours and for all of Israel and let us say Amen. 

Freely translated by Gabbai Seth Fishman

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