This coming Thursday, January 1st marks the beginning of a new year for many of our non-Jewish brethren throughout the world. While for them it will be celebrated with fanfare and revelry, this year January 1st coincides with עשרה בטבת the “Fast of the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet.” For Jews around the world it is a day of fasting, saying penitential and supplicatory prayers, “Selichot,” introspection and teshuvah (repentance).
Many of our fellow Jews incorrectly consider the 10th day of Tevet to be of minor significance. Maybe this attitude is due to the fact that the fast, the abstention from food and drink only occurs from dawn on the morning of the 10th of Tevet until nightfall. Here in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that time is from 5:54am until 6:20 pm. It is perfectly permissible, then, to get up at 5:30 am, eat breakfast until 5:54 am and then begin the fast. Clearly the 10th of Tevet is not a 24 hour fast like Yom Kippur or the 9th of Av. Nor due the other restrictions of those two days apply such as not to wash or to anoint with soothing oils, not to wear leather shoes, and not to engage in sexual contact. So it is understandable how the notion, that fasting on 10th of Tevet as only a minor event in the Jewish calendar cycle, could take hold.
However, as we have examined before, there are no minor or major days, events or activities in Judaism. It is all one system. Every part is vital to its legal, ethical, and philosophic completeness. “It is a Torah imperative to cry out to Hashem and blast with the silver trumpets in the Holy Temple for any calamity about to occur to the congregation…It is a decree of our rabbis to fast when a threat to the congregation is pending.” (Rambam Laws of Fasting, 1:1 and 4) However, in the first law of Chapter 5 of the Laws of Fasting, the Rambam writes, “There are days when all Jews fast because of the tragedies that occurred on them in order to arouse our hearts and to open the door to the path of repentance. This will be a remembrance for our bad actions and the actions of our forefathers that were like our actions now so that they caused to them and to us these tragedies and difficulties in life. Through this remembrance we will return to the good.”
One of these days specifically mention for fasting is the 10th of Tevet. It was decreed by the prophets and Torah scholars at the beginning of the siege of the Jerusalem by Nebucanezer. The attack that winter in Tevet culminated later that summer with the complete destruction of the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Selichot for the 10th day of Tevet mention other tragedies: the murder of Ezra the Scribe and the translation of the Torah into Greek.
As stated by the words of the Rambam above, we today are acting the same way as did our forefathers. The implication of his words is clear. Because we continue on this course of action, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple is delayed and the security of the Jewish people is in jeopardy. Could there be a more significant idea attending this fast day? If we want to know why the situation for the Jewish people today is the way it is, we need not look any further than our own misguided actions. Anti-Semitism and physical assaults on Jews around the world are on the rise. Hatred for the modern nation of Israel has never been greater. Lies continue to be asserted and spread, Israel is a racist and apartheid state. Even protesters in Ferguson, Illinois carried banners defaming the country of Israel. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign being waged on American college campuses against Israel has only one real goal: the total destruction of Israel.
When the prophets and rabbis issue a decree for all of Israel to fast, it is not a minor pronouncement, something to be taken lightly. Not following their directive involves a serious legal and philosophic breach. The Rambam writes in the Laws of Repentance 3:11, “Someone who separates himself from the practices of the Jewish community even though he has not committed any Torah violation but merely separates from Jews by not joining with them in performing mitzvoth or participating with them in their crying out to Hashem or fasting in their time of trouble, rather he just lives as another person in the world. Such a person forfeits his portion in the world to come.”
Why is there such a harsh judgment for this person? The forfeiture of “the world to come,” represents a fundamental legal and philosophic breach of the system. The separation from and non-participation with the Jewish world on this day demonstrates one of two positions. Either the person rejects the idea of God’s divine providence over the people of Israel, or he wants to hide from identifying with and being responsible for bringing about the will of God. That will or providence is that the people of Israel should exist safely in their own land free to practice the entire system of Judaism. Either way this person has voluntarily and of their own free will chosen to abandon the people of Israel. This divorce from God’s divine plan is self- imposed and the resultant loss of “the world to come” is a natural outcome.
May all of us use this 10th day of Tevet to renew our commitment to the survival of Jewish people and its sacred God given way of life. In this merit may Hashem continue His protecting care over the Jewish people and may we soon merit to rebuild our Holy Temple in our land, the land of Israel. Then will be fulfilled the words of the prophet Zechariah 8:19 mentioned by the Rambam in the Laws of fasting, 5:19, “… in the time of the Moshiach all these fast days will be days of Yom Tov, happiness and rejoicing …”
Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful fast,
Rabbi Robert Kaplan