Fasts Usually Go Slow

(Torah Portion Vayechi) Fasts Usually Go Slow

Friday, December 17th is the public fast of Asarah B’Teves ? The Teenth day of the Hebrew month of Teves. Our prophets established it as a day of fasting to commemorate the tragic event that took place on this day. We are all aware that the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the holiest place on earth. This is where our Temple stood, where Avraham brought his son as a sacrifice, and where Yaacov had a prophetic dream. King David purchased the area and laid the foundation of the Temple that served as the Palace of G-d on earth. King David’s son, King Solomon, constructed the magnificent First Temple. This Temple was constructed 440 years after the Jews entered the Land of Israel (long before the current day Arabs can trace their roots). The Temple stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 3338 from creation, 2433 years ago.

Prior to its destruction, the Babylonian King Nevuchadnetzar laid siege to Jerusalem for eighteen months. During this time the Babylonians closed all the sources of water to Jerusalem and famine set in; they also shot rocks over the fortified walls of Jerusalem. The Jews offered some resistance; however physical resistance was not enough to stop the enemy whom G-d brought in order to bring the Jews to sincere repentance. The message was not heeded and G-d allowed His Palace to be destroyed together with lives of many Jews. Our sages tell us that G-d vented His anger on His own Temple allowing it to be destroyed rather than destroying all of His people. The siege began on the Tenth day of Teves, and since this was the onset of the destruction of the Temple, our prophets established it as a day of fasting. The purpose of a fast is to evoke a feeling of repentance and commitment to G-d.

There were two other tragic events that occurred in the month of Teves which we mention in the special prayers that are recited on this fast. One is that the Egyptian King Ptolemy II forced 70 sages to translate the written Torah into Greek (the Septuagint). Each Sage was placed in a separate room and miraculously they translated it identically in spite of the fact that they had to amend the text in places to protect the Jews. The Talmud remarks that when this occurred, darkness descended on the world for three days, since it was now possible for the unlearned to boast of a superficial and usually erroneous understanding of the Torah.

Until this point in time, the Torah which was written in the Hebrew language could only be read and understood by Jews, and was therefore limited to and controlled by the Jewish People. A similar episode is recorded in relation to our portion of the week. Our Sages tell us that when Pharoh appointed Yosef as second in command, his officers complained that it was disrespectful for a person who was bought as a slave to be their leader. Pharoh responded that he saw kingly greatness in Yosef. The officers replied that if he indeed had kingly qualities, he should know all seventy languages. The angel Gavriel came and taught Yosef all seventy languages. Yosef had difficulty understanding them until Gavriel added a letter ‘Hey’ to Yosef’s name which enabled him to retain the languages. The next day Yosef was able to respond to any language that Pharoh conversed in. However when Yosef spoke to Pharoh in Hebrew, Pharoh did not comprehend. He asked Yosef to teach him Hebrew, but Pharoh could not grasp it. Pharoh made Yosef swear that he would not reveal to the Egyptians that he did not know the Hebrew language.

The other tragic event in the month of Teves is that Ezra the Scribe and his colleague Nechemia both died in Teves. Their loss left a tremendous void. Nechemia led the Jewish people in the rebuilding of the second Temple in Jerusalem. Ezra immigrated to Israel from Babylon a year later. Ezra was a prophet, a Kohain, a member of the Great Assembly of 120 Sages, a great Scribe and an influential leader. Ezra secured the vitality and future of the Jewish nation by compelling and impressing upon the Jews to abandon forbidden marriages.

Our Sages tell us that Ezra would have been worthy of bringing the Torah to the Jewish people had Moshe not preceded him. With Ezra’s passing, prophecy came to end. The fast memorializes the sacred contribution of Ezras life. The fast begins on Friday at 6:11 a.m. and ends 5:16 p.m. Kiddush and the Shabbos meal should not begin before this time.

Be happy by bringing out the kid in you!
Upon passing a playground with children at play, the Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveichik o.b.m. asked those accompanying him their thoughts about why children are generally happy and laugh easily. Perhaps, it is because children lack a maturity which brings a more solemn outlook on life, suggested one person, or, it is because they have few responsibilities, were reasons that were voiced. The Rav shook his head in disagreement. He then explained that children are happy because human beings are Naturally this way! If people would be born with all sorts of varying temperaments we witness in adults, such as being stressed, worried, pessimistic or dispirited, then we would witness these emotions inn children in a similar measure that we see in adults. The fact that normal children from stable homes are overwhelmingly happy and carefree indicates that this is a person’s natural state. As we grow older, the Rav continued, we complicate matters. We erect walls, barriers and we bury our natural state under layers of self-imposed encumbrances (such as jealousy, desire, greed and doubt) Children, who have not yet complicated their lives with external baggage, are in their natural purer state.
Wishing you a most uplifting, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks