Today, on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, Jewish people fast to commemorate several tragic events in Jewish history.[1] These tragic events include the breaking of the Tablets (Luchot) and the breach of the walls of Jerusalem twice—during the First and the Second Temple.[2]

It seems that the confluence of these destructive events is not coincidental—all three are manifestations of the spiritual process called in Lurianic Kabbalah, Shevirat HaKelim (the “Breaking of the Vessels”).[3] Many readers may be surprised by the juxtaposition of historical events that happened in this physical world with primordial events that took place in another universe—Olam HaTohu (the “universe of Chaos”)[4] that preceded the creation of our universe—Olam HaTikkun (the “universe of Rectification”)[5] Indeed, how can something that happened before the creation of our universe can affect historical events in this universe?

To understand this, we must remind ourselves that time was created only in this universe Olam HaTikkun.[6] Time did not exist in the Olam HaTohu—the universe of Chaos. Thus Shevirate HaKelim (“Breaking of the Vessels”) took place “before” the creation of time. But what does it mean “before the creation of time”? How can a temporal construct, such as “before,” be used prior to the emergence of time? Strictly speaking, it can’t. It’s like saying, “North of the Northern Pole.” Such phrases, while grammatically accurate, are devoid of meaning. However, our vocabulary has no other words to express what happened “before” the creation of time. So, we use such words with quotation marks indicating that we understand that “before” doesn’t really mean “before” in the usual sense, but this is the best that could be said about it. And herein lies the danger. Words “before” and “after” order the set of events so that any two events can be compared, whether one happened before or after the other. Thus, saying “before time was created” creates a false sense of order. Even if we remember that the word “before” in this phrase does not have the usual temporal meaning, one might be tempted to construe this phrase thus, “At least we can say that what happened ‘before time was created’ was no longer happening after time was created.” But this is a mistake, and precisely the opposite is true. Anything that precedes the emergence of time transcends time and exists in a timeless realm. We cannot imagine such a reality and cannot relate to it. Therefore, to say that something happened “before the creation of time” is to say that something continues to happen forever and ever.[7] Although we cannot imagine a timeless domain, we can imagine eternity… sort of. Although we cannot grasp all of eternity, we can imagine time going back in the past forever and extending into the future forever. So, for us, time-bound creatures, timelessness means eternity.[8]

To understand that something existing outside of time is eternal, we first must define what we mean by “eternal” and “existing outside of time.”

In common usage, “eternal” refers to something that has no beginning and no end, existing always. This is a challenging concept, as our human experience is very much defined by time and its progression.

If something is said to exist outside of time, it is not bound by this progression. It doesn’t experience past, present, or future as we do. It simply “is.”

From this perspective, one can argue that any entity or concept outside of time must be eternal, as it is not subject to a beginning or end. If it doesn’t exist within the timeline we experience, there can be no point when it begins or ceases to exist. Therefore, it exists always — it is eternal.

So, when we say that Olam HaTohu (the “universe of Chaos”) was destroyed before Olam HaTikkun (the “universe of Rectification”) was created, we really mean that this destruction goes on forever. Similarly, when we say that the Breaking of the Vessels happened before the Olam HaTikkun was created, it actually means that it continues to happen—then and now. On the Seventeenth of Tamuz, the Breaking of the Vessels manifested itself first in the breaking of the Luchot (“Tablets of Stone”), then in the breaking of the walls in Jerusalem during the First Temple, and then again during the Second Temple. The destruction of Bet HaMikdash (the “Holly Temple”) was also a manifestation of the Shevirat HaKelim—the Breaking of the Vessels of Tohu.

Speaking about the destruction of both Temples on the same date—the Ninth of Av, a Jewish sage exclaimed, “One can only wonder at the precision with which the wheel of history turns.” Perhaps now, we can understand where this precision comes from. Time is a spiral having both cyclical periodicity and forward movement. When something eternal, something that transcends time, manifests itself in time due to time’s cyclicity, it will show up at the same place on the spiral of time—the same date in different years. When the vessels of Tohu shuttered, the shards of the broken vessels fell into the world of Tikkun. The timeless shards fell on the time spiral. When asteroids or other cosmic debris fall on Earth, that usually spells trouble. So too, when shards of the broken vessels of Tohu fell into the world of Tikkun, trouble ensued, time and again.

Now we can understand why we fast on the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av—Tisha B’Av. Those fallen shards caused damage to the spiral of time where they fell—on those specific days. We fast so that the tragic events that happened over and over in the past on these troublesome days should not, G‑d forbid, happen again now.

The Lurianic Kabbalah teaches that our cosmic mission is to rectify the fallen shards of the broken vessels of Tohu.[9] This is why our universe is called Olam HaTikkun—the universe of Rectification. On 28 Nissan 5751 (April 1991), the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, declared that all sparks resulting from the broken vessels of Tohu trapped in the material world had been extracted, rectified and elevated—our cosmic mission had been accomplished. All that is left is to greet the Redeemer (Mashiach) and usher the Redemption (ge’ulah); may it happen immediately. As prophet Zacharia said:

Thus saith the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons. . . .

(Zacharia 8:19)


[1] The fast of Tammuz is mentioned in the Book of Zechariah as “the fast of the fourth [month]” (Zechariah 8:19). This refers to Tammuz, which is the fourth month of the Hebrew calendar.

[2] According to the Mishnah, on the 17th of Tamuz, Jewish people suffered five calamities: (1) Moses broke the two tablets on Mount Sinai when he saw the Golden calf; (2) the daily tamid offering ceased to be brought because no sheep were available, during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem; (3) during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, the city walls were breached, leading to the destruction of the Second Temple on Tisha B’Av; (4) Roman commander Apostomus burned a Torah scroll; and (5) an idol was erected in the Temple.

[3] Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, E aim, Shaar HaKelim. See also Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya, Igeret HaKodesh, Epistle 20; Likutei Torah, “Vayedaber Elokim El Moshe,” on Parshat Va’era; Ma’amarei Admor HaZaken Hakearim, “Ki Tavo”; emach edek, Dere Mivotea, mitzvah of “Tzitzit.”

[4] Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, E aim, Shaar HaHakdamot; Sefer HaLikutim; Pri Etz Chaim. See also Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Likutei Torah on Bereshit and Noach; Dere Mivotea.

[5] Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, E aim, Shaar HaHakdamot, Introduction 5; Sefer HaLikutim; Pri Etz Chaim. See also Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Likutei Torah on Bereshit and Noach; Dere Mivotea, see for example Mivat iit, Mivat Ahavat Yisrael, Mivat Tefillin.

[6] In fact, even in the Olam HaTikkun, time wasn’t created right out of the gate but only emerged in the Malchut (the last of ten sefirot) of Atzilut (the first of the four worlds of Seder Hishtalshelut (the “chain-like [ontological] order” of creation).

[7] For example, in Greek Philosophy, many works of Plato, particularly the “Theory of Forms” found in dialogues like “Phaedo,” “Symposium,” and “Republic,” deal with the idea of eternal concepts or forms that exist outside the flow of time.

[8] I am grateful to my my mentor, Rabbi Hirsh Rabisky, Shlita, for elucidated this point for me.

[9] Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, E aim, Shaarei Kedushah, “Shaar HaAkudim,” “Shaar HaNekudim,” and “Shaar HaBrudim”; see also Shaar Ruach HaKodesh and Shaar HaGilgulim. See also Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya, Igeret HaKodesh, Epistle 20; Dere Mivotea, Mivat Tefillin.

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