Asara b’Teves

Tomorrow is the Fast of Asara b’Teves. This Ta’anis is different than the others in certain aspects. The other three fasts, 17th of Tammuz, 9th of Av and Tzom Gedalia all commemorate events that revolve around the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash. In contrast, the primary reason for fasting the 10th of Teves is due to the commencement of the siege around Yerusholayim during the waning days of the First Temple. In fact, the walls of Yerusholayim were breached during the siege of the first Beis HaMikdash on the 9th of Tammuz, and nevertheless we fast on the 17th, which was the corresponding date in the second one. This indicates the superior status of the events closer in proximity. Furthermore, while we are aware of the dates of the breaching of the walls for both Temples as well as the day of their destruction, no commemoration is made of the date the siege began in the second Beis HaMikdash. Why the discrepancy?

The Avudraham makes an interesting pronouncement. He claims that Asara b’Teves, in one specific aspect, is more serious that all of the other fasts. While the other three fasts, even Tisha b’Av, are delayed when they coincide with Shabbos, he claims that the 10th of Teves is not. Numerous Poskim challenge this statement, and some of them even cite an interesting contradictory source. In the Shabbos ZemerKi Eshmera Shabbos” we sing that it is forbidden to fast on Shabbos, with the sole exception of Yom Kippur. This appears to indicate that Asara b’Teves is delayed by Shabbos. I’m not completely convinced by this proof, after all the song was written to instruct the common folk of the basic Halachos of Shabbos, and since the construction of our current calendar nearly 2000 years ago, Asara b’Teves cannot fall out on Shabbos. Its omission from the Zemer may be a practical consideration, and not a Halachic one.

However, this anomaly itself raises a question. If the 10th of Teves can never occur on Shabbos, what is the relevance of the Avudraham’s statement? Why should we care if it would supersede Shabbos or be superseded, if it will never happen? Some Poskim suggest that if Asara b’Teves is so severe as to override the Shabbos meals, it presumably would have other ramifications. They propose that even an ill individual would be obligated to fast on Asara b’Teves, despite his exemption from other fasts. While the majority of authorities dismiss this distinction, it sharpens the need to explain the significance of this earliest fast.

In fact, I saw it suggested that the severity of Asara b’Teves is precisely due to its predating the others. Since Yetzias Mitzraim, the Jewish People underwent close to a thousand years of relative success. Sure there were frequent downturns, the Nevi’im are full of lost battle against the Plishtim and others. However, until the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash, there was no serious threat to Jewish sovereignty and to the vitality of the Temple. The problems were always temporary, and afterwards we reverted to our original state.

Nevuchadnetzar’s siege of Yerushalaim was a turning point in Jewish history. From that point on we have been denied complacency. We know now that there will be serious consequences for our misbehavior. The maintenance of a status quo is never guaranteed.

From that point on, our history has taken a totally different direction. We have had no stability at all. Even the return from Bavel was short lived and lacking independence; between the Greeks and Romans, even the period of the Second Beis HaMikdash was never stable. Certainly, over the two thousand ensuing years we have shuttled from country to country and from continent to continent. Tomorrow reminds us of the starting point of this new reality.

May we be Zoche to the beginning of a new and stable period with the coming of Mashiach.

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