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The Little Known Observance

12/27/2013 09:47:19 AM


We are celebrating the last days of Chanukah through December 5th. When you first receive this bulletin, I want to repeat a Chag Chanukah Sameach, a happy Chanukah from Penny and me.

Of course, everyone knows about Chanukah! What is not so well known is the commemoration occurring on Friday, December 13th. It is the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tevet, and is a fast day. Why was this fast fixed into the Jewish calendar, despite it being on Erev Shabbat?

It is because in 425 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia began the assault on Jerusalem. This was the start of the closing stages of Jewish independence and freedom in Israel. Less than three years later, the walls of Jerusalem were breached and the First Temple was destroyed. Our ancestors were exiled, forcefully taken into Babylonian captivity.

In our modern calendar, this is the only fast that can fall on a Friday! Why wasn’t it moved? Why not treat it as other fasts, some that would be moved early to Thursday, and others postponed until Sunday?

There are two fascinating answers! One is that there is a relationship in our Tanakh (our Bible) between the 10th of Tevet and another fast day, whose date must be the 10th, even if we adjust the calendar otherwise. This is the major fast of Yom Kippur. In Leviticus 23:28, Yom Kippur is described as “B’etzem Hayom Hazeh”, i.e. on the very day. Similarly, in Ezekiel 24:2, the 10th of Tevet has a similar description: “Etzem Hayom Hazeh”, i.e. the very day).  

A second reason is that the 10th of Tevet  is  the only one of the four historical fasts whose precise date is mentioned in Tanakh!  (II Kings 25:1, Jeremiah 52:4, and Ezekiel 24:1.)

What is the deeper meaning of this observance? Whenever we fast, we are looking into ourselves. We are searching for ways to grow and become better. In a sense, just as the Temple stood for a way of reaching out to all peoples, being an “or lagoyim”, a light to the nations, so too do we, by our positive or negative deeds, serve as an example to inspire or disillusion others. With this fast, we do our own soul searching, taking our own inventory.

On the 10th of Tevet, we feel the consequences, of what it means to not have the Temple in Jerusalem, and an Israel that has peace. We feel the consequences of what it means to be in exile, including the loss of six million of our people. It is no wonder that the great Rabbis of these last generations have said that on the 10th of Tevet we should say kaddish for the victims of the Shoah, many whose date of death is unknown. After all, is there any greater loss than this? Isn’t it reflected in our lack of numbers, in each synagogue and religious school? How different a scenario it might have been, if the six million had not been murdered!

When you reflect on our history of the diaspora, it all originates from being in exile, from the destruction of the Temple, and yes, to the 10th of Tevet.

Should this bring us down? Absolutely not! If anything it should strengthen our resolve to support Israel, our Jewish community, our synagogue and our religious school.

It should also firm our resolve to be the best representatives of what it means to be a Jew!

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782