What shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Y'rushalayim? What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O maiden of Tsion? For thy breach is great like the sea, who can heal thee?~ Eichah 2.13 ~
Although today, Sunday, is the 18th of Tammuz in the Hebrew calendar, Jews the world over fast and lament today (because the 17th fell yesterday on Shabbat, and we don't fast on Shabbat), to commemorate the many calamities that have befallen our people on this ominous day. The purpose of such fasts is, according to Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov's Book of Our Heritage, "to awaken hearts towards t'shuva through recalling our forefathers' misdeeds, misdeeds which led to calamities...".
The 17th of Tammuz is a historically tragic day for the Jewish people and the fast actually commemorates five tragic events that occurred on this date: ~
Moshe descended Mount Sinai on this day and, upon seeing the Golden Calf broke the first set of Tablets of the Testimony ~ the luchos ~ (Shemot 32:19, Mishna Taanit 28b).
The Kohanim in the First Temple stopped offering the daily sacrifice on this day (Taanit 28b) due to the shortage of sheep during the siege and the next year 3184 (586 BCE), the walls of Jerusalem were breached after many months of siege by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces. The destruction of the First Holy Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces followed.
In Melachim II 21:7 we find that King Menashe, one of the worst of the Jewish kings and a Rasha, had an idol placed in the Holy Sanctuary of the Temple, according to tradition on this date. The Talmud, in Masechet Taanit 28b, says that in the time of the Roman persecution, Apostomos, captain of the occupation forces, did the same thing, and publicly burned the Torah ~ both acts considered blasphemy and desecration. These were followed by Titus and Rome breaching the walls of Jerusalem in 3760 (70 CE) and three weeks later, after the Jews put up a valiant struggle, the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple on the 9th of Av,("Tisha B'Av"). The Jerusalem Talmud maintains that this is also the date when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem on their way to destroying the first Temple.
Pope Gregory IX ordering the confiscation of all manuscripts of the Talmud in 4999 (1239).
But, you know, this day continued to be a dark one for Jews. In 1391, more than 4,000 Jews were killed in Toledo and Jaen, Spain, and in 4319 (1559) the Jewish Quarter of Prague was burned and looted.
The Kovno ghetto was liquidated on this day in 5704 (1944) and in 5730 (1970) Libya ordered the confiscation of Jewish property. And I have heard somewhere too that the first mass gassings of millions of Jews ~ the first event of the 'Final Solution' ~ took place on this date in 1942.
Other occurrences on this day include Noach sending out the first dove to see if the Flood waters had receded, (Bereishit 8:8) in 1650 (2100 BCE). Moshe Rabbeinu destroying the golden calf, (Shemot 32:20, Seder Olam 6, Taanit 30b - Rashi) and then ascending back up Har Sinai for the second time where he spent the next forty days pleading for forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf, (Shemot 33:11, Rashi).
Agonizing over these events is to help us conquer those spiritual deficiencies which brought about these tragic events to our nation. Through the process of "T'shuva" we have the power to transform this tragedy into joy. Our Sages stated explicitly (Ta'anis 30b) "All who mourn over (the destruction of) Jerusalem merit to see her in her joy." We are assured that if we properly appreciate the enormity of our loss, we merit to share in the joy of seeing Jerusalem re-established in all her glory, B"H.
Have a meaningful fast and may we all merit to see the rebuilding of the Beit Ha'Mikdash in our days!