During the course of the working week a person lacks the freedom of mind necessary to examine the course of his life on either a personal or interpersonal level and to determine whether or not his aspirations and objectives are being met. Fast days, then, are occasion for introspection and repentance. After all, we are not fasting over the distant, unrelated past; we are fasting in response to our own present situation.
Yet, perhaps it would be better during times of joy, in the midst of our elation, to pause for a moment, to stop our dancing for a short time, to reflect, and to ask ourselves what we are so happy about.
Jewish celebration is mixed with sorrow. It is not a mere release; it is rational and profound celebration. Depravity and frivolity do not reflect true joy and heartfelt thanks. In the same manner that we need air to breathe, we also need to set aside a number of days a year for serious reflection and gravity, days of introspection and preparation for what lies ahead.
Let us briefly consider the Seventeenth of Tammuz. Have the walls of Jerusalem which were breached on this day been rebuilt? True, as Zechariah the Prophet says, "Jerusalem shall be inhabited like unwalled towns," and this befits her even more than walls, for walls represent fear of enemy and war, yet we are in need of Jerusalem’s walls because of their sanctity: to eat the Passover lamb and burnt offerings within them. For this reason we need a Holy Temple, the priesthood, "Urim VeTumim," a Sanhedrin, royalty, and prophecy; without these ingredients we lack the ability to sanctify the walls of Jerusalem.
Where are all of these elements though?
Were we to eat and drink on the day whereupon the walls of Jerusalem were breached we would make a mockery of all of our exalted aspirations and objectives. These things, after all, are largely dependent upon us: our ability to penetrate hearts, affect spiritual growth, remove partitions, and demonstrate unwavering faith and great spirit. We have seen with our own eyes how the redemption consists at once of human action and Divine assistance.
On the Seventeenth of Tammuz the daily Tamid offering was discontinued. Has the Tamid been restored?! On this day the Torah was burned. Does the Torah not continue to be burned by the nations, and, to our great disgrace, by our own dear brothers in the redeemed and liberated land of Israel? On this day, the Tablets were broken. Have the Golden Calf and its worshippers vanished from our midst? On this day, an idol was erected in the Sanctuary. The same idol, in a reincarnated form and boasting a golden dome, continues to stand today upon the ruins of our Sanctuary, and negotiations are underway to expropriate the entire area and give it to the "foxes that walk thereupon." And we, for ourselves, stand impure and removed; our eyes bear witness to all of these things and our sight grows dim. Woe are we that we find ourselves in this disgraceful and humiliating state: we do not even sense the insult and the suffering of the Divine Presence, and our stomach longs for delights. How is it that our heart is not horrified? How is it that our blood does not boil when we see the nation and its leaders displaying such exilic defeatism with regard to our sacred and liberated borders? How is it that instead of mourning over this we remain complacent and indifferent?!
Biblical verses in this article were taken from The Jerusalem Bible (Koren).