1. A fast day is a “day desirable to G-d.” We learn this from a verse in Yeshayah, which states (58:5): “Is such the fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sack cloth and ashes under him? Do you call this a fast and a day desirable to G-d?!”
We see then that a fast (when properly
observed) is considered a “day desirable to G-d.” The prophet continues to speak of the proper way to observe a fast: “Is this not rather the fast that I have chosen? ... Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the poor that are cast out to your house? That when you see the naked you cover him?” In other words, for a fast to be a “fast that I have chosen,” a “day desirable to G-d,” it does not suffice for a person to “afflict his soul,” and “bow down his head like a bulrush.” The important part of a fast day is to “share your bread with the hungry, bring the poor to your house, and clothe the naked” — the general idea of tzedakah (charity). In addition, the verse mentions the idea of “spread sack cloth and ashes” — which is the concept of prayer, service to G-d. And to know how to conduct oneself in prayer, tzedakah, and general deportment on a fast day, one must study Torah. Hence on a fast day, one must increase in the three things “on which the world stands” — the study of Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness.
In the Laws of Fast Days, the Rambam explains that a fast is “of the ways of repentance; in a time of trouble... all should know that evil has befallen them because of their wicked deeds” — it is not just coincidence. When Jews will repent and depart from their evil ways, “this will cause the trouble to depart.” Hence, when we see the world in the perilous state it is, we must know that it is a result of our ways; in general, this means a deficiency in the three things on which the world stands and exists — Torah, prayer, and deeds of kindness (i.e. the world is weakened by a deficiency in the three things on which it exists). The solution is to strengthen the basis of the world by increasing in these three things. when the cause for the instability is removed, then the effect (the instability) is automatically eliminated.
2. The above is common to all fast days. In addition, there are special lessons to be learned from the particular events of each of the four fast days. On the tenth of Teves, “the King of Babylon... approached Yerushalayim and laid siege to it...” Although the King of Babylon had as yet not breached the walls of Yerushalayim on the 10th of Teves, nevertheless, the very fact that he “approached” Yerushalayim, and as a result “laid siege to it,” is a catastrophe, and must be fought against. If efforts are not so made, then worse things can eventuate — as indeed, the siege started on the 10th of Teves eventuated in the occurrences of the other fasts: “the wall was breached” (on the 17th of Tammuz), and “the house of the L-rd was burned” (on the 9th of Av). This teaches us the severity of the 10th of Teves, and the importance of fighting and abolishing it completely.
In man’s service to G-d, this means the following: Yerushalayim is called after the names ‘Yira’ — fear, and ‘Sholem’ — perfection. In other words, Yerushalayim represents perfect fear, fear of Heaven to perfection. This idea is relevant to all Jews, commensurate with our Sages statement that Yerushalayim “was not apportioned among the tribes” — Yerushalayim belongs to every Jew in all generations. Furthermore, our Sages have said: “Yerushalayim is built as a city united together — (meaning) a city which causes all Jews to be friends.” Since Yerushalayim is the city that belongs to all Jews, it is the capital of Eretz Yisrael.
The antithesis of Yerushalayim is Babylon (Bavel in Hebrew). Bavel corresponds to the world in general, where all things are mixed together (mixed together in Hebrew is ‘bilbul’ — similar to Bavel or Babel), and it is difficult to differentiate between the sacred, the mundane, and the forbidden. only through the agency of the “Torah of light” is it possible to make the proper distinctions.
Now we can understand the idea of the 10th of Teves in man’s service to G-d. The “king of Babylon approached Yerushalayim” refers to the Yetzer Horah’s (the Evil Inclination — the ‘King’) attempt to bring together Babylon and Yerushalayim. It is prohibited to allow this, for the proximity of Babylon to Yerushalayim is a “siege” for Yerushalayim (“he laid siege to it”). If we do not try to immediately abolish this siege, it can cause even greater troubles.
A Jew must know that Yerushalayim and Babylon are two separate things which have absolutely no relationship or connection to each other. There must be a clear distinction between the two — “He makes a distinction between Yisrael and the other nations” (as explained above, Yerushalayim corresponds to the Jewish people, and Babylon to the other nations), similar to the distinction “between sacred and profane” and “between light and darkness.”
We are in exile, against our will, as the previous Rebbe said in the name of his father the Rebbe Rashab, that: “it was not with our will that we were exiled from Eretz Yisrael, and it will not be with our strength that we will return to Eretz Yisrael; our Father our King may He be blessed exiled us .... and He, may He be blessed, will redeem us...” Nevertheless, we must always remember that “only our bodies were delivered into exile... but not our souls.” And since a Jew’s body is subservient to his soul, it follows that a Jew’s body is such that it also never went into exile.
The lesson from the 10th of Teves for every Jew is as follows: The start of a Jew’s service every day is the saying of ‘Modeh Ani,’ which is the idea of self-nullification and fear of Heaven — the level of Yerushalayim. Then follows prayer in Synagogue, which also is fear of Heaven — the saying of the first two paragraphs of Shema represent the acceptance of the yoke of heaven and yoke of mitzvos. Then follows Torah study which also emphasizes the same thing — since the preparation to Torah study is the idea of “My soul is as dust to all.” Thus we see that a person’s service at the beginning of a day — Modeh Ani, prayer, Torah study — is associated with Yerushalayim, perfect fear.
After this, one goes out to work, dealing with the world which is on the level of Babylon. The 10th of Teves teaches us that we must abolish and prevent the idea that “the king of Babylon approached Yerushalayim.” When a Jew deals with the world, ‘Babylon,’ he must know that in essence, he has no connection with it since there is absolutely no meeting point between Yerushalayim (the level of each Jew) and Babylon. Hence, even when dealing with matters of Babylon, he is far removed from it.
This means simply that not only does a Jew realize that success in worldly matters is only due to G-d’s blessing — “the L-rd your G-d will bless you in all that you do;” but his dealings with the world are only mere external actions, while his heart and mind are in matters of Yerushalayim — Torah and mitzvos. Indeed, the true purpose of dealing in worldly matters is to use them for holy purposes, particularly and mainly in giving tzedakah.
When a Jew conducts himself in the manner of Yerushalayim (i.e. starting the day with Modeh Ani, prayer, Torah study), and then deals with the world with the purpose of elevating it to sanctity, not only will he not be adversely influenced (“besieged by the king of Babylon”), but his service elevates the world (Babylon) to holiness (Yerushalayim), making it a fit dwelling place for G-d.
His service will have caused the distinction between Yerushalayim and Babylon to be breached — but in the proper way: he elevates Babylon to the level of Yerushalayim (and not the reverse). In the words of our Sages: “In the future, Yerushalayim will encompass all of Eretz Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael will encompass all the lands” — then “all the lands” (including Babylon) will be on the level of Yerushalayim.
3. The above applies to the 10th of Teves every year. In addition, there is a special lesson to be learned from the day of the week on which the 10th of Teves falls out. Consonant with the Alter Rebbe’s dictum that “we must live with the times,” meaning according to the lessons derived from the weekly parshah, the particular lesson of the 10th of Teves this year is derived from the daily portion of this week’s parshah — Tuesday of parshas Vayechi.
This year, there are many festivals which fall out on Tuesday: Rosh Hashanah, Shemini Atzeres, Chof MarCheshvan, Yud-Tes Kislev, Purim, and Lag BaOmer. On Tuesday, the third day of creation, “it was good” was said twice — ‘good for heaven and good for creatures.’ In man’s service, this means that every moment must be simultaneously permeated with the concept of “good for heaven” and “good for creatures.” ‘Good for creatures’ is achieved through tzedakah, physical and also spiritual — the dissemination of Judaism and Chassidus. As explained previously, the important part of a fast day is “to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor that are cast out to your house, and to cover the naked.” When the fast of the 10th of Teves falls out on Tuesday, there is extra strength given to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah (“good for creatures”).
For the service of “good for creatures” to be properly fulfilled, one must have Ahavas Yisrael, love of a fellow Jew. True Ahavas Yisrael can only be reached through being humble. This is emphasized on a fast day, when a person must “bow down his head like a bulrush” (except, as explained before, this alone does not suffice).
The daily portion of the weekly parshah emphasizes this idea of humility. The third portion of parshas Vayechi tells of Yaakov blessing Yosef’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe, and how Yosef wanted his father to put his right hand on Menashe’s hand and his left hand on Ephraim’s , be cause” (Menashe) is the firstborn; put your right hand upon his hand.” Yet “his father refused, and said I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but his small (younger) brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.” Therefore Yaakov left his right hand on Ephraim’s head.
One lesson from this is as follows: The Klei Yakor explains that “Yosef considered it more correct to give extra blessings to the first born son, for he inherits a double portion, and therefore the extra blessings go to him. Yaakov answered ‘ I know it my son, I know it,’ yet nevertheless ‘his small (younger) brother shall be greater than he,’ for G-d chooses more those who are small (i.e. humble). Every person who is humble G-d raises to make from him hundreds of thousands as stated: ‘Not because you are the most populous of the nations did G-d desire you, but because you are the smallest;’ and it is written ‘the small one shall be for a thousand, and the young one for a great nation.’“
We see then that the daily portion of this week’s parshah emphasizes the idea of humility, similar to the humility one must have on a fast day. Such conduct helps a person to reach the level of “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” when one’s service of “good for creatures” is at its perfection.
Humility is also emphasized in the end of the daily portion — “I have given you one portion more than your brothers, which I took out of the hand of the Emorites with my sword and with my bow.” Onkelos translates “with my sword and with my bow” as “with my prayer and my request,” which refers to the general service of prayer. Before prayer, a person must be in a state of humility” — the idea of “My soul is as dust to all.” When a Jew prays with humility, G-d’s blessings are bestowed upon him beyond all limits.
This is the lesson from today’s portion of the weekly parshah. A Jew must conduct himself in the ways of Yaakov as expressed in the two concepts learned in today’s portion:
1) “with my sword and with my bow — with my prayer and with my request,” i.e. with humility and
2) the placing of Ephraim the small before Menashe the firstborn.
In other words: Every Jew possesses greatness — Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos in the best way possible. Nevertheless, it is demanded of a Jew to place prior emphasis on the element of smallness
within him, humility — “My soul is as dust to all.” Indeed, it is specifically through humility that one reaches the loftiest heights — “I will make dwell the broken and humble of spirit in the heights and holy places.” The state of “broken and humble spirit” is the conduit through which G-dliness comes. This is then translated into blessings for great success in Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos, including prayer; and blessings for all physical things — children, life and sustenance, all of them in ample measure, beyond limit.
4. The ‘Emorites’ mentioned in the verse “I took out of the hand of the Emorites,” were the strongest of the seven nations (in the land of Canaan), and encompasses all of them. The seven nations represent the seven emotions of the heart. Just as there are the emotions which are devoted to holiness, so too there are those of the opposite side. The verse “I took out of the land of the Emorites” represents the conquering of the seven emotions of the opposite side, and their conversion to “Eretz Yisrael,” ‘Eretz’ having the root ‘rotzon’ — desire, meaning it desires to do G-d’s Will. Since the heart is the central organ of the body, the conquering of the seven emotions of the heart ensures that a person’s total conduct is proper.
The above idea of conquering the seven emotions (“I took out of the hand of the Emorites”) is achieved through the service of “with my sword and with my bow — with my prayer and with my request.” A sword can kill only those in close proximity to its wielder. A bow can kill also those far away. “Sword” and “bow” refer to requests made in prayer, which, as before, is achieved through humility. The difference between the two is that ‘bow’ refers to greater humility, and beseeching G-d’s mercy upon one’s soul to help defeat even those enemies far away. In man’s spiritual service, enemies that are far away refer to evil which is concealed — and the more intense prayer of ‘bow’ helps defeat even this.
5. Previously, the idea of “good for creatures,” to have Ahavas Yisrael for each and every Jew, was discussed. In this connection, it is timely to once again urge all Jews to unite by purchasing a letter in one of the Sefer Torahs currently being written for this purpose. Particular effort should be applied to Jews behind the Iron Curtain.
In summation, in practical terms, all Jews should increase in the three pillars on which the world stands — Torah, service to G-d (prayer), and deeds of kindness (tzedakah). Today, which is a fast day, a “day desirable to G-d,” should have particular emphasis on tzedakah. May it be G-d’s will that very soon will be fulfilled the promise “Thus says the L-rd G-d of Hosts: the fast of the fourth (month) ... and the fast of the tenth (the 10th of Teves) shall become to the house of Yehudah for gladness and for joy and for festivals.”
Similar to the above verse, the Rambam writes that: “All these fasts will be annulled in the time of Mashiach. Not only that, but they are destined to be festivals and days of gladness and joy, as it is stated: “So says the L-rd G-d of Hosts: the fast of the fourth...” The Rambam, however, changes the order. The verse says these fasts will be changed to “gladness and joy” and then “festivals.” The Rambam reverses the order and places “festivals” before “gladness and joy.”
The reason for the different order is as follows: “Gladness and joy” are of a loftier nature than “festivals.” Festivals refer to the entire Yom Tov, whereas “gladness and joy” refer more particularly to the festive meals of Yom Tov — “gladness is only with meat and wine.” Moreover, in deeper terms, “festivals” refer to something limited, similar to the festivals themselves being limited in time; whereas joy and happiness are beyond all limits.
The redemption, when the fasts will be abolished and converted to joy, can come in two ways. In the way of non-merit, when the redemption will come in its appointed time; or with merit, when it will be hastened. The Rambam, who is a Halachic codifier, when writing of the redemption must include all possible ways — even that of non-merit. Hence, when talking of the conversion of the fasts to days of joy, the Rambam writes the order of events to include even when the redemption comes in its appointed time. First “these fasts will be annulled;” then “they are destined to be festivals;” and finally the loftiest level of all, they become “days of gladness and joy.”
Scripture however, is talking of the redemption as it comes when the Jews merit it — when it comes before its appointed time. Hence the order is “days of gladness and joy and festivals” — first comes the most important thing, “gladness and joy;” and then it affects the lower level (those limited in time) to make it “festivals.”
The lesson from this is that in general, man’s service to G-d is normally in an order, ascending from the lower levels to the loftier ones. However, in our times, we cannot afford to conduct ourselves SO. When we see a Jew devoid of Torah and mitzvos, we cannot worry about the order of things, but immediately we must bring him closer to Judaism and the entire Torah. Through our leaping over the normal order of things we merit to have the redemption also in the manner of “leaping” over the normal order — the redemption is hastened, and speedily we shall see the fast days converted into “days of gladness and joy and festivals” in the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach.