1. As Maimonides states (1), the underlying theme of a day of fasting is repentance. This theme is common to all of the fast days; which were established to “arouse the heart; to open the path of repentance.” (2 )
Hence, it was customary (3) in many communities to speak “words of admonishment” on a fast day, during the time of afternoon prayers, to arouse the people to repentance.
Unfortunately, this custom has remained, in only a few communities. We may perhaps justify this by saying that there is no castigation more effective than the recital of the “Haftorah”185 itself, which is read on a fast day during afternoon prayers. In addition, being that the fast always occurs on a work day, the Rabbis did not wish to burden the congregation. (4)
Nevertheless, the arousal from saying or hearing an established text (in our case, the Haftorah) which is in Hebrew, obviously cannot compare to that which results from words of remonstration not addressed in a fixed formula, and spoken in the vernacular. In addition, words of admonishment spoken on a public fast day, are particularly effective because they can include topics relevant to current affairs.
It is one of the objectives of this talk (as there remain only a few hours until the fast of the Tenth of Teves, which commences in the morning) to restore the aforementioned custom. Wherever possible “words of admonishment” should be spoken, or an appropriate Psalm recited, after afternoon prayers. In those places where this would be too burdensome on the congregation (or it would cause a loss of work time) one should at least ponder on an idea or a thought relevant to the theme of repentance.
As the A-mighty “desires the heart,” (5) particularly in “matters of repentance, which is principally in the heart,” (6) this good intention (will be) regarded by G-d as an actual deed. (7)186
There are many levels of “Teshuvah” (repentance), the highest arising from a love of G-d. On this level sins are not only absolved (so that they are as if they had never occurred), but are themselves transformed into merits. (10)
Consequently, words of admonishment that lead to a repentance of this category, bring about the fulfillment of the Divine promise (12) “all of the fast days will be ultimately nullified;” moreover, they are designed to be transformed into holidays, days of joy and happiness.” The transformation of fast days to holidays parallels the transformation of sins to merits.
2. The fast of Asarah BeTeves (the Tenth of Teves) commemorates (13) the “siege of Jerusalem by Nebucchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and its subsequent hardships,” as related in Tanach. (14) In the Book of Yechezkel (15), we find in addition to the event itself, the command of the A-mighty to record the event, “Write down this day, this very same day ....” (By means of this record it would become known that Yechezkel was an authentic prophet, consequently verifying his prophecies of redemption).
Asarah BeTeves merely involved a siege of Jerusalem. The city itself remained intact, the Temple functioned normally and even the sacrifices continued as usual. Nevertheless there is a stringency in the fast of Asarah BeTeves not found in the fast of Gedaliah, in the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (when the daily sacrificial service was interrupted and the city’s walls breached), nor in Tishah beAv (when the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed). Asarah BeTeves, unlike other fasts, cannot be deferred to another day if it falls on Shabbos (according to one opinion) (16).
The reason for the severity of Asarah BeTeves is as follows. The siege of Jerusalem was the root of all subsequent calamities. It ultimately led to the invasion of the city (on the 17th of Tammuz)and eventually, to the destruction of the Holy Temple (the House of the L-rd), (on Tishah beAv). Now, as the siege by the King of Babylon, ‘who surrounded Jerusalem on that same day” was meant as a warning to the Jewish people that if repentance was not forthcoming the situation would deteriorate further, it is clear that the seed for the impending calamities was then planted. And, as the underlying idea behind all fasts is to arouse the heart to open the road to Teshuvah, Asarah BeTeves must evoke a deeper sense of Teshuvah. Therefore, the laws of the fast associated with this Teshuvah have an unusual degree of severity.
3. Our purpose in commemorating these events is to “improve our ways.” In view of this, we will discuss one of the lessons which can be derived from Asarah BeTeves (a lesson relevant especially nowadays, when the confusion is so great, that “darkness is mistaken for light, and bitter for sweet.” (17)
The name “Yerushalayim” — Jerusalem, is etymologically derived from two words “Yirah, Shalem” (18), “absolute fear of Heaven.”
When we overlook (_not the more important mitzvos, but) minor Rabbinical enactments, or laws which an assiduous scholar has recently derived, our “absolute fear of Heaven” is slackened, constituting a “siege” on Jerusalem.
As soon as this siege is detected, any feasible, measure must be employed in an all-out effort to break it. If this effort is not made, the most trivial of sieges can have disastrous results, G-d forefend. As stated in the Talmud (19), “One day the evil inclination says to man, ‘do this’, the next day, ‘do that’, until it ultimately convinces him to go out and practice idolatry.”
How is the Yetzer HaRa able to persuade a Jew, who is well aware that all of Torah is G-d-given, to transgress even a minor detail of Torah law; a law derived by a latter-day scholar?
Disguising himself in a cloak of piety, the Yetzer HaRa explains the Jew that by overlooking a minor Mitzvah, he will gain in the observance of one or more major Mitzvos.
The Yetzer HaRa further explains that the Torah itself permits a person to neglect one precept in favor of another, as in the case of a negative commandment being suspended when it clashes with a positive commandment, or in a situation where the Shabbos laws are suspended when a life is at stake.
In truth, however, the Yetzer HaRa is not at all interested in safeguarding the more stringent precepts. On the contrary, it wishes to pave the way for far more serious transgressions, as quoted above from the Talmud, “today he tells man, ‘do this’ ....”
Needless to say, the argument of the Yetzer HaRa is unsound. The principle that “a positive precept takes precedence ever a negative precept,” is one which the Torah itself has established. This is in sharp contrast to a situation where a mere mortal decides to transact business by ‘selling’ a minor Mitzvah (which entails transgressing G—d’s Will), in return for a major Mitzvah.
This latter situation ultimately degenerates to the point where the person sells (not only minor Mitzvos, but) major Mitzvos as well.
4. In accordance with the above, our Sages explain the verse “(20) He (the A-mighty) will not accept bribes.” At first glance this verse is perplexing. As “the world and everything in it belongs to G-d” (21), how could a person possibly bribe Him?
The answer to this is as follows: The only thing not in G-d’s domain, so to speak, is “fear of Heaven” (22). He has given human beings free choice to either serve Him or do otherwise. A Mitzvah, then, could be considered our “gift” to G-d. Consequently, we may wrongly imagine that we are able to “bribe” G-d through performance of Mitzvos. It is to a bribe such as this that the Torah is referring when stating “He will not accept bribes.” This verse is meant as a warning that we not delude ourselves into believing that we can bribe G-d with the performance of Mitzvos.
5. The aforementioned lesson has particular bearing on Jewish education. There are those who believe that if we are to convince either those children who have not yet had a Jewish education, or their parents, of the importance of enrolling in a Torah day school, we must make certain compromises and minor (but not major) concessions. Asarah BeTeves creates an awareness of the consequences which result when we allow a siege around “Jerusalem” – the absolute and steadfast fear of Heaven.
A compromised education will not prepare the child for a steadfast fear of Heaven at a later age. On the contrary, he will continue to compromise. “A person, even at old age, does not turn from the way in which he was educated as a child (23).” Furthermore, “educating” him when young on the permissibility of making minor concessions will result in his making major concessions when he grows older.
The only way to ensure that a child will make no major concessions at a later age is to tell him what it says in Toras Emes — the Torah of Truth. It the child is given a compromised Torah education, he will ultimately feel that he is not being told the truth, and will lose trust in those educating him. He will not listen even when told not to make major concessions.
Every aspect of a person (whether good or evil), when he is yet a young sapling or kernel (24), is magnified many times over when he grows older. It is therefore worth every effort and endeavor to ensure that Torah education be perfect in every aspect.
6. The above also applies when we encounter a Jew who is old in years, but young in Jewish learning and practice.
We must not say to ourselves that because telling him the full extent of the Torah and Mitzvos may estrange him entirely, we will say instead that there currently exists only a small section of the original Mitzvos. This, we shall explain to him, has been decided. by a majority vote of certain authorities who have ‘updated’ Torah. G-d forbid! We must be honest and tell him that he is obligated in all Mitzvos as have been all Jews in all generations, because “this Torah shall never be exchanged” (25), G-d forbid.
If we are unable to convince him to fulfill all the Mitzvos at the present time, we must speak to him about immediately fulfilling any Mitzvah which there is even a slight chance of him agreeing to. In this way, “one Mitzvah will lead to another Mitzvah (26),” resulting in him eventually becoming “complete and perfect in all the limbs of his soul (27),” in the 248 limbs which correspond to 248 positive Mitzvos, and in the 365 sinews, corresponding to the 365 negative Mitzvos:
As mentioned previously, a fast day is meant to serve as an arousal to Teshuvah. Besides Teshuvah in matters between man and Creator (“goodness to Heaven”), we must also return to G-d by fulfilling our obligation towards our fellow Jews (“goodness to fellow creations”). This applies to all Jews, including those who (because they lack any other qualities) can only be called “creations” (of G-d).
An arousal to the aforementioned Teshuvah must occur on every Asarah BeTeves. However, it is especially significant this year in light of the fact that Asarah BeTeves falls on Tuesday, a day of two-fold good — “goodness to Heaven and goodness to fellow creations.”
From Asarah BeTeves on, we must begin exercising much more vigor and enthusiasm in “loving our fellow beings and bringing them closer to Torah. (28)” This can be brought about by convincing them to immediately fulfill those Mitzvos to which they are agreeable. If there is really no other alternative, we must get them to fulfill at least one (or several) Mitzvos, preferably beginning with the 10 (general) Mitzvos — the ten-point Mitzvah Campaign. This will eventually lead to fulfillment of all Mitzvos.
Another point which must be made regarding “loving our fellow beings and bringing them closer to Torah.” Upon meeting a Jew who feels that his previous behavior does not permit him to now begin fulfilling (all) Torah and Mitzvos, there being no hope for him, we must firmly but pleasantly encourage him.
It must be made clearly understood that an immediate self-transformation is possible. (These are not just empty words of encouragement, but rather a Halachic decree in Torah (29) — which is a Torah of Truth).
We must also explain to him that the fulfillment of at least one Mitzvah (especially if it is of the general Mitzvos) will refine him and eventually bring him to the fulfillment of all Mitzvos.
7. The lesson which we derive from Asarah BeTeves that we do not have the right to sacrifice one Mitzvah for another, seemingly more important, Mitzvah, has special relevance to those involved in community affairs. There unfortunately exists an element of community officials who ‘trade’ in Mitzvos. They ‘faithfully’ concede a Mitzvah, claiming that through such a course of action they will profit a second, more important, Mitzvah.
They must realize that G-d “does not take bribes.” A Torah prohibition will remain an absolute prohibition even if they wish to talk themselves, or others, into believing that the reason they remain silent on an issue is to enable them to gain on a second issue. It is even more sobering when we realize that their silence has been taken by others to mean that they have conceded the issue.
The necessity for community leaders to act in a befitting manner is further emphasized in the Shabbos prayer, where we bless “those faithfully involved in community affairs.” The word for faithfully is “be’emunah,” which can also be translated as “with belief in G-d.” Thus the above phrase, at a deeper level of interpretation, can be rendered as “those whose occupation in community matters is permeated with belief in G-d.”
The community official realizes that his success is not due to his own intelligence, etc. It is rather G-d who fortifies him with the ability to succeed.
More important: only because of his belief in G-d is he involved in community affairs. When offered a position of esteem in the community, he refuses. However, if the community is persistent, he tales it as a sign from Heaven to become involved. Only because of this does he accept the position.
It automatically follows that he will not be blinded by prestige, or the necessity to retain his position. Needless to say, the position does not become a means of livelihood without which he cannot live, because if it does, he will begin making minor concessions. This will then set the pace, due to the constant worry about livelihood, prestige, and his position, for major concessions.
If, however, he has been forced, so to speak, into community affairs, and he realizes that his success is not due to his superior abilities, but rather to the blessings of G-d, it is obvious that he will be amongst those “who are faithfully involved in community affairs.” He will have in mind the benefit of the community, and not his own benefit. His involvement will be according to the Will of G-d, and then, and only then, will he be a fitting vehicle for the blessings of G-d.
Let it be the Will of G-d that our faithful involvement in community affairs and in Jewish education will hasten, even more, the coming of our righteous Mashiach. He will then put and end to our exile, and this will be followed by the first stage of Redemption (30) when “G-.d will be King over the entire world.” (31)
1. Hilchos Taanios, Ch. 1 Halachah 2
2 . Ibid. , beg. of Ch. 5
3. gee Sefer Hazichronos by Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 1, p.233
4. See Levush Orach Chaim, Ch. 566 Par. 2
5. Tractate Sanhedrin, p. 106b
6., Tanya, p. 36b
7.. Tractate Kiddushin, p. 40b
8. Tanya, Ch. 16
9. Psalms 55:23
10. Rashi’s commentary (beg. “Kan Mei’ashavo”) on Tractate Yoma, p. 86b
11. Ibid., p. 86b
12. End of Hilchos Taanios. See Likkutei Sichos Vayigash 5738
13. See Rambam ibid., Ch. 5 Halachah 2
14. Melachim II 25:1, Yermiyahu 52:4
16. Avudraham Hilchos Taanios
17. Paraphrase of Yeshayahu 5:20
18. See Tosfos beg. “Har” Tractate Taanis, p. 16a
19. Tractate Shabbos, p. 105b
20. Eikev 10:17
21. Psalms 24:1
22. Tractate Berachos, p.33b
23. Mishlei 22:6, see Rashi
24. See Devarim 20:19 “For a man is like a tree of the field.” For an elaborate treatment of this analogy see: Kuntreis Chanoch LeNaar, p. 37. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, p. 82; Vol. 6, p. 310
25. Poem “Yigdal.” See also Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, Ch. 9
26. Tractate Avos, Ch. 4, Mishnah 2
27. See Likkutei Torah, Nitzovim, p. 45 col. 3
28. Tractate Avos, Ch. 1, Mishnah 12. See Tanya Ch. 32
29. Tractate Kiddushin, p. 49b. Shulchan Aruch Even Ho’ezer, Ch. 38, Par. 31
30. Rambam Hilchos Melochim, beginning and end of Ch. 11
31. Ovadiah 1:21