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Fast of 10h of Tevet

Fast of 10h of Tevet

Fast of the 10th of Tevet: The Grand Jerusalem Besieged

Published on Tuesday December 18th, 2018

In chapter 549 of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim), it is stated: "It is an obligation to fast (...) on the 10th of Tevet". It was in fact on that day that the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar the impious one, encircled Jerusalem, and it is on this date that the siege of the city would begin which would lead to the destruction of the 1st Temple. As it is said, "In the ninth year of his reign [King Tzidkiah], in the tenth month, the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched with all his army against Jerusalem. He encamped under its walls, and he built a siege all around. The city was under siege until the eleventh year of the reign of Tzidkiah "(Kings 2: 25, 1-2).

Three Days of Darkness

A little further on, (chapter 580, paragraph 2), however, the Shulchan Aruch adds: "These are the days that were days of distress for our ancestors and for which it is necessary to fast (...) On the 8th of Tevet, at the time of King Talmai, the Torah was translated into Greek and the world was plunged into darkness for three days. We are not told what disaster struck on the 9th of Tevet [the Mishna Brurah stresses that this date corresponds to the disappearance of Ezra HaSofer. In his commentary, Rav Menashe Grossberg writes on this passage of the Megillat Taanit that it corresponds to the birth "shel oto haish".

Thus, although the dates of the 8th and 9th of Tevet are considered "taanit tzadikim", that is to say dates that we are not obliged to fast, and that only the 10th of Tevet was remembered as a public fast (taanit tzibur), we must recognize that these three dates form a unified whole. And, in the selichot of Asara B’Tevet (10th of Tevet) we say: "I was struck three times during this month," ‘three times’ refers to the aforementioned Shulchan Aruch when, again, using the expression used by the Megillat Taanit about the translation of the Torah into Greek, it says that from the 8th of Tevet "the world was plunged into darkness for three days".

Indeed, the encirclement of Jerusalem during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (in 3336) took place almost two centuries before the translation of the Torah into Greek (3515), but these two events already had a common reality, the same one that resurfaced each year during the first 10 days of the month of Tevet...

The Winter Solstice

In the Treatise of Avoda Zara (p.8 / a), it says: "Realizing, [after the sin] that the length of days was decreasing, Adam haRishon exclaimed: 'Woe to me! Maybe because I brought darkness to the world, the world is now returning to primordial chaos?! This is the decree of death that was decreed by Heaven against me... '. He stopped all activity, fasted and prayed for 8 days. Then, upon seeing the winter solstice (tekufat Tevet), and seeing the days grow longer, he said: 'This is the custom of the world (minhago shel olam)'. He then made 8 days of festival. The following year, he celebrated these two periods as days of festivities. Of course, he instituted them in the name of Heaven (leshem shomayim), while they [the nations] celebrate them in the name of idolatry... ".

The winter season (whose date is set in the Gregorian calendar on December 20 or 21) refers to the fact that the apparent movement of the sun towards the north on the celestial sphere seems to stop before changing direction, hence the term solstice: literally sol (the sun) sistere (stops). It corresponds to this date when (in the northern hemisphere) the duration of the solar radiation, and therefore of the day, reaches the end of its decrescendo before resuming its rights over the night and darkness. This period, throughout the ages, has always been a pretext for a multitude of pagan festivals, making a cult for the renewal of the sun in the heart of the winter darkness. A pivotal date between these two periods celebrating the renewal of the light, and the winter solstice (Tekufat Tevet) is thus the very place of a Havdala (distinction) between Israel and the nations, separating kedusha (holiness) from avoda zara (idolatry). (As it says in the 3rd Mishna of Avoda Zora.)

It is therefore not "by chance" that the month of Tevet is synonymous for Israel with uncertainties and dangers, because, in these three events related in Megillat Taanit, it is neither more nor less the spiritual form of the world, and its divine dimension, in one word: its light - which is at stake. Thus, when during the month of Tevet, the Torah was translated into Greek, our Sages teach that this date was "for Israel as the day when the Golden Calf was made, for the Torah could not be translated in its integrity" (Soferim 1, Mishna 7). Indeed: with this translation, came the terrible possibility to approach the Torah, to study it, as one would study any other science! They reduced the Torah, they took away its divine dimension, the fact that its meaning is given to us in the form of the only rationality, thereby removing its transcendent dimension. The death of Ezra haSofer, on the 9th of Tevet, also corresponds to the end of the era of prophecy, the disappearance of the expression of the divine Word in this world. For, G-d is now silent, absent, at least in appearance, from our daily life, as it says: "Mi kamocha baElim - Who is like You among the powerful" (Shemot 15, 11), an expression that our Sages interpret "Mi kamocha beilim - who is like you among the dumb" (Yalkut on the verse).

As for the 10th of Tevet, this third and last date which was retained by our tradition as a public fast day, it reminds us that the siege of Jerusalem, the city of the Temple, the house of the Lord, brought to a stop G-d's unveiling in this world. Nebuchadnezzar put an end to the spiritual height of Jerusalem (bematzor ubematok) (see Rambam, Hilchot Taanit, chap.5, paragraph 2).

However, Chanukah, which follows the Tekufat Tevet should remind us that "the renewal of the light needs the Temple, as the Midrash tells us (Bereshit Raba 3, 4): ''Rabbi Berachia said on behalf from Rabbi Yitzchak that this is where the light was created, as it is said: 'And behold, the glory of the G-d of Israel came from the east'' (Ezekiel 43: 2). However, there can be no question of glory - kavod - outside the Temple, as it is said: 'It is a glorious throne, sublime from all eternity, the place of our Sanctuary' (Jeremiah 17, 12) "(Ner mitzvah).

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