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Asara b'teves

12/09/2013 01:01:49 AM

Dec9

A thought for the upcoming fast of Asarah b'teves:

Today, on Tishah b’av, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem, was destroyed.

Sounds dramatic, right?  But when I tell you that on Asarah b’teves Nevuchadnetzar laid siege to Jerusalem, it doesn't really grab you.  While that was unquestionably a critical moment in Jewish history, being in a certain sense, the beginning of the end; why do we need a specific fast day to commemorate it?

The other fast days we understand:

Tishah b’av was the day the Temple was destroyed. 

Tzom Gedalya was the end of our political control in Land of Israel.

Shivah-assar b’tamuz was the day that the walls of Jerusalem fell.  The walls delineate where Jerusalem begins and ends.  Without walls, there is no Jerusalem.  For example, there is a mitzvah called maaser sheini, for a farmer to bring one tenth of his crops to Jerusalem to be eaten.   Without walls, there is no Jerusalem in terms of maaser sheini.

Each fast day seems to correspond to an aspect of destruction, be it the Temple, Jerusalem, or our political control.  Asarah b’teves doesn't seem to fit in.

What makes today even more remarkable is that according to the Avudraham (Laws of Fasts, p.254), Asarah b’teves even overrides Shabbos.

According to our set calendar none of the four fast days can occur on Shabbos.  However, the Avudraham maintains that if we had no set calendar, and these fast days were to occur on a Shabbos, they would all be pushed off to Sunday, except for Asarah b’teves.  According to the Avudraham, even if today were Shabbos, we would still be fasting!  In fact, this year we will be fasting, in part, on Shabbos.  It is the only fast day that can occur on erev Shabbos.  It is an astonishing thing.  Why should the nature of Asarah b’teves be such that it overrides Shabbos?  It would seem to be the least important of all the fasts, it does not correspond to any form of destruction, and yet it is the most strict, in the sense that, according to one opinion, it even overrides Shabbos?!

The answer is that the language utilized by the prophet Yechezkel, emphasizes the essential nature of this very day, and it therefore must be observed on that day, even if it occurs on Shabbos:

“Son of man, write for yourself the name of this day, the essence of this day, the King of Babylonia besieged Jerusalem in the essence of this day.” - Yechezkel 24:2

Just like regarding Yom Hakippurim (see Vayikra 23), there is apparently a quality of the day that is so critical to observe that it even overrides Shabbos, so too the tenth of Teves.

Yet this does not satisfy our thirst to understand why this is so.

 

A starting point can be found in the work, Bnei Yissaschar:

“On the seventh (of Av) the non-Jews entered the sanctuary, ate and ransacked it on the seventh and eighth.  On the ninth close to nighttime they ignited it on fire and it continued to burn the entire next day... This is what Rebbi Yochanan said, ‘Had I been alive in that generation, I would have made [the observance of Tishah B’Av] on the tenth, because most of the sanctuary burned then.  Why do the Rabanan disagree?  They say that the beginning of the disaster is more appropriate.” - Taanis 29a

Why is the beginning of the disaster better to mark the commemoration of the destruction?  Apparently, because all that happens subsequently is a mere consequence.

The Bnei Yissaschar asks how the Rabanan knew this principle?  Is it mere logic?  He suggests that they knew it from the verse quoted above regarding the essence of the day of Asarah b'teves.  The prophet tells us that the tenth of Teves is the most severe of the fasts, there is a certain essence of the day, because it was really the beginning of everything.  Before this, there may have been plans of destruction, but it was all in the realm of theory.  Once there was a siege, there was a physical reality to it.  That is considered the beginning of the destruction of the Temple.

 

I think that there is more to it than that as well.

The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 31a) says that the Divine presence, the Shechinah, made ten travels before returning to her place, so to speak.  We know that the Shechinah hovered above the lid of the ark, in the Holy of Holies.  When the Jewish people sinned, the Shechinah began to depart, little by little.

First, she went from above the ark, from where she used to speak to Moshe Rabbeinu, and from where all the prophets focused to receive prophecy, to one of the cherubs that King Shlomo had made.  From there, she went to the other cherub, making her way slowly, step by step, out of the Temple to the city; to Jerusalem.  From Jerusalem, she went to the mountains, and to the desert.  From the desert, she returned to her place, leaving us with death, destruction and exile.

Rabbi Yochanan said, "The Shechinah waited for six months in the desert; maybe, just maybe, the Jewish people would do teshuvah."

The Maharsha comments that these six months correspond to the six month siege of Nevuchadnetzar on Jerusalem.  The siege ended on the ninth of Tamuz, when the walls of the first Temple were breached.  A violent battle ensued, culminating in the destruction of the Temple one month later.

According to the Maharsha, the day that the Shechinah left Jerusalem, was Asarah b’teves, when the siege began.  As long as the Shechinah was present, a siege was impossible.  Once the Shechinah departed, what remained was a weak, physical city lacking the Divine protection it once enjoyed.  That is when the siege began; that is what allowed the siege to begin.

While the physical destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple occurred later, the destruction of the sanctity of Jerusalem, was on Asarah b’teves.

This is how Asarah b’teves fits in with the other fast days.  It also corresponds to an aspect of destruction, the essential aspect, Kedushah, sanctity.  Asarah b’teves is the day that the Shechinah left Jerusalem and waited in the desert, hoping desperately that the Jews would repent, and bring her back.

May we all have a meaningful fast and keep in mind that the Divine Presence, the Shechinah is in exile, just as we are.  We yearn for the day when we are once again deserving of God’s Presence in a tangible way, in our midst - with the rebuilding of the physical Temple, soon in our days.

Etan Moshe Berman

    Today, on Tishah b’av, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem, was destroyed.
    Sounds dramatic, right?  But when I tell you that today, on Asarah b’teves Nevuchadnetzar laid siege to Jerusalem, it doesn't really grab you.  While that was unquestionably a critical moment in Jewish history, being in a certain sense, the beginning of the end; why do we need a specific fast day to commemorate it?
    The other fast days we understand:
    Tishah b’av was the day the Temple was destroyed. 
    Tzom Gedalya was the end of our political control in Land of Israel.
    Shivah-assar b’tamuz was the day that the walls of Jerusalem fell.  The walls delineate where Jerusalem begins and ends.  Without walls, there is no Jerusalem.  For example, there is a mitzvah called maaser sheini, for a farmer to bring one tenth of his crops to Jerusalem to be eaten.   Without walls, there is no Jerusalem in terms of maaser sheini.
    Each fast day seems to correspond to an aspect of destruction, be it the Temple, Jerusalem, or our political control.  Asarah b’teves doesn't seem to fit in.
    What makes today even more remarkable is that according to the Avudraham (Laws of Fasts, p.254), Asarah b’teves even overrides Shabbos.
    According to our set calendar none of the four fast days can occur on Shabbos.  However, the Avudraham maintains that if we had no set calendar, and these fast days were to occur on a Shabbos, they would all be pushed off to Sunday, except for Asarah b’teves.  According to the Avudraham, even if today were Shabbos, we would still be fasting!  In fact, this year we will be fasting, in part, on Shabbos.  It is the only fast day that can occur on erev Shabbos.  It is an astonishing thing.  Why should the nature of Asarah b’teves be such that it overrides Shabbos?  It would seem to be the least important of all the fasts, it does not correspond to any form of destruction, and yet it is the most strict, in the sense that, according to one opinion, it even overrides Shabbos?!
    The answer is that the language utilized by the prophet Yechezkel, emphasizes the essential nature of this very day, and it therefore must be observed on that day, even if it occurs on Shabbos:
    “Son of man, write for yourself the name of this day, the essence of this day, the King of Babylonia besieged Jerusalem in the essence of this day.” - Yechezkel 24:2
    Just like regarding Yom Hakippurim (see Vayikra 23), there is apparently a quality of the day that is so critical to observe that it even overrides Shabbos, so too the tenth of Teves.
    Yet this does not satisfy our thirst to understand why this is so.
 
    A starting point can be found in the work, Bnei Yissaschar:
    “On the seventh (of Av) the non-Jews entered the sanctuary, ate and ransacked it on the seventh and eighth.  On the ninth close to nighttime they ignited it on fire and it continued to burn the entire next day... This is what Rebbi Yochanan said, ‘Had I been alive in that generation, I would have made [the observance of Tishah B’Av] on the tenth, because most of the sanctuary burned then.  Why do the Rabanan disagree?  They say that the beginning of the disaster is more appropriate.” - Taanis 29a
    Why is the beginning of the disaster better to mark the commemoration of the destruction?  Apparently, because all that happens subsequently is a mere consequence.
    The Bnei Yissaschar asks how the Rabanan knew this principle?  Is it mere logic?  He suggests that they knew it from the verse quoted above regarding the essence of the day of Asarah b'teves.  The prophet tells us that the tenth of Teves is the most severe of the fasts, there is a certain essence of the day, because it was really the beginning of everything.  Before this, there may have been plans of destruction, but it was all in the realm of theory.  Once there was a siege, there was a physical reality to it.  That is considered the beginning of the destruction of the Temple.
    
    I think that there is more to it than that as well.
    1The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 31a) says that the Divine presence, the Shechinah, made ten travels before returning to her place, so to speak.  We know that the Shechinah hovered above the lid of the ark, in the Holy of Holies.  When the Jewish people sinned, the Shechinah began to depart, little by little.
    First, she went from above the ark, from where she used to speak to Moshe Rabbeinu, and from where all the prophets focused to receive prophecy, to one of the cherubs that King Shlomo had made.  From there, she went to the other cherub, making her way slowly, step by step, out of the Temple to the city; to Jerusalem.  From Jerusalem, she went to the mountains, and to the desert.  From the desert, she returned to her place, leaving us with death, destruction and exile.
    Rabbi Yochanan said, "The Shechinah waited for six months in the desert; maybe, just maybe, the Jewish people would do teshuvah."
    The Maharsha comments that these six months correspond to the six month siege of Nevuchadnetzar on Jerusalem2.  The siege ended on the ninth of Tamuz, when the walls of the first Temple were breached.  A violent battle ensued, culminating in the destruction of the Temple one month later.
    According to the Maharsha, the day that the Shechinah left Jerusalem, was Asarah b’teves, when the siege began.  As long as the Shechinah was present, a siege was impossible.  Once the Shechinah departed, what remained was a weak, physical city lacking the Divine protection it once enjoyed.  That is when the siege began; that is what allowed the siege to begin.
    In other words, while the physical destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple occurred later, the destruction, so to speak, of the sanctity of Jerusalem, was on Asarah b’teves.  The essential destruction, the sanctity of Jerusalem and the Temple, was on Asarah b’teves.
    This is how Asarah b’teves fits in with the other fast days.  It also corresponds to an aspect of destruction, the essential aspect, Kedushah, sanctity.  Asarah b’teves is the day that the Shechinah left Jerusalem and waited in the desert, hoping desperately that the Jews would repent, and bring her back.
    May we all have a meaningful fast and keep in mind that the Divine Presence, the Shechinah is in exile, just as we are.  We yearn for the day when we are once again deserving of God’s Presence in a tangible way, in our midst - with the rebuilding of the physical Temple, soon in our days.
  16 Elul 5779