1. In certain communities, the leaders of the congregation used to deliver a lecture after the Minchah prayers on fast days. The intention of the lecture was to motivate the listeners to do Teshuvah. Last year, I explained the importance of this custom and also the significance of the 10th of Teves. This year, there are new lessons connected with that occasion.
The Baal Shem Tov explained that “Hashgachah Protis” (Divine Providence) controls everything in the world. Therefore it is possible (and necessary) to derive a lesson in service to G-d from everything that we see. This statement particularly applies to the four public fasts that are connected with the destruction of Jerusalem. The events which happened on those days can provide us with clear lessons in the service of G-d.
The four fasts share a common lesson: They teach us that the Galus came about as a result of the sins of the Jewish people and will end when the Jewish people do Teshuvah. However, besides this general point, each fast communicates a particular lesson relevant to the events that happened that particular day.
The 10th of Teves commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem conducted by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. The siege is described by the prophet Yechezkal who uses the word “somech” meaning “lay siege to.” Generally, the word “somech” has a positive meaning—”support.” Why here did the prophet describe the siege with this term?
The answer to this question must be prefaced by the explanation of a fundamental Jewish concept: Everything in this world, including the undesirable and evil elements, have their sources in Holiness. Only after a series of veilings and contractions, do they take on aspects opposite to Holiness. It follows that siege began (in its source) as a positive act, which had the Jewish people responded properly, would have remained positive. However, the Jewish people did not appreciate the opportunity, and their improper response brought about negative results. To express this, Yechezkal used the word “somech” which indicates that although the intention in its source is good, it can turn bad.
Another example from Jewish history further illustrates this concept. Nebuchadnezzar was not the first king to lay siege to Jerusalem. Before him, Senacherib, the King of Assyria had surrounded the city. In fact, the armies of Senacherib posed a much greater threat to Jerusalem than did those of Nebuchadnezzar. Senacherib had more soldiers (185,000) and the Jewish people were less prepared to fight him. On the verse in Yeshayah “and on this very day he will halt in Nov,” commentaries explain that had Senacherib not halted, he would have conquered Jerusalem on one day. We see that in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, the conquest took many years of protected siege.
Despite Senacherib’s great strength, G-d performed a miracle and in one night totally routed the Assyrian camp, producing a tremendous victory for the Jewish people. The victory had spiritual implications as well. The Talmud says “G-d wanted to make Chizkiyahu (the King of Judah at that time) Mashiach.” Even though other factors intervened and the wish was not fulfilled physically, it is obvious that G-d’s wishes cannot remain totally unfulfilled. His wish had the effect, in the spiritual planes, of bringing the Mashiach’s coming much closer.
Had the Jews seized the opportunity, a similar chain of events might have happened at the time of Nebuchadnezzar. His attack also could have been transformed into a positive force. Yet another example will clarify the concept. The section in the Chumash describing the flood, begins “it began to rain.” Commenting on that verse, our Sages explained that had the people of that generation done Teshuvah, the rains would not have come down as flood waters, but as “the rain of blessing.” 120 years before, G-d had decreed that He would bring a flood. Based on His decree, Noach had warned the people, built an ark, and even entered the ark. Although the people observed this entire process and still did not do Teshuvah, G-d gave them another chance. Had they done Teshuvah at that time, there would not have been a flood. The rain itself would have become a blessing.
This story describes a period before “Matan Torah,” the giving of the Torah. Torah and Mitzvos (including the mitzvah of Teshuvah) did not have the same power then as now. If such a transformation could have occurred before Matan Torah, then surely at the-time of Nebuchadnezzar (after Matan Torah) a similar turnover was possible.
Therefore, even though Nebuchadnezzar’s Beige brought about the destruction of Jerusalem. and the Bais HaMikdash, and caused the Galus of the Jewish people, Torah describes it with the word “somech”—support. The source of the Beige and its potential effects, (had the Jews responded properly) were positive.
The same lesson applies in the personal sphere of service to G-d. Today a Jew finds himself in Galus, and all of the ominous signs that the Talmud predicted for “Ikvesa HaMashiach” (the time immediately preceding Mashiach’s arrival) are visible. His own soul, his personal Jerusalem has been surrounded and put to siege try the “Yetzer Hora” (evil inclination). Nevertheless, rather than despair, he should realize that the source and the purpose of this Beige is good, it is to “somech” — to support and strengthen the walls of Jerusalem.
The Hebrew word for Jerusalem, “Yerushalayim,” is made up of two words—”yireh” and “shalem”—which mean complete fear. Within his soul, each Jew possesses a Jerusalem, a level of complete fear of G-d. For that reason he is willing to sacrifice his life for Torah and Mitzvos. Through one Jew arousing another and teaching him how to express his complete fear of G-d, the “siege” will be lifted and turn into a support for Torah. Indeed, the “siege” was originally intended to become such a support. G-d’s intention included the concept that the siege could be transformed through the service of a Jew. When this service is completed, the fast days will become days of ,joy and happiness, as the Rambam writes “when the Jews do Teshuvah, they will be redeemed immediately.”
2. The concept described above applies, not only on a national level, but to each Jew as an individual. No matter who he is, no matter what his situation, he holds the key to the entire world.
In one moment, with one turn, he can do Teshuvah and with Teshuvah bring about the Messianic redemption. In the book Boneh Yerushalayim, the Alter Rebbe declares “if there were one Tzaddik who would do perfect Teshuvah, Mashiach would come in his generation.”
How can the Teshuvah of one individual bring Mashiach? Chassidus explains that the Mashiach’s soul possesses an unique spark relating him to each particular Jew (this connection will enable him to redeem every Jew). The reverse also applies. Each Jew possesses a spark of the Mashiach. Therefore, if he activates the essence of his soul, arouse his spark of Mashiach and then brings these essential energies into the realm of thought, speech, and action he can cause Mashiach to come.
An example of this concept is the siege of Jerusalem described before. One man, Chizkiyahu, was able (through his service of prayer) to end the siege and would have (had other factors not intervened) brought about the Messianic redemption.
The same applies to every Jew. He can hasten the coming of Mashiach. May he redeem us speedily in our time.
3. This year, the 10th of Teves produces an additional lesson. It falls on a Tuesday, which is a day singled out in the Biblical narrative of creation. On Tuesday, the Torah repeats the expression “and G-d saw that it was good,” a second time.
Tuesday is also connected to the verse “He redeemed my soul in peace” interpreted by our Sages to relate to the future redemption. This connection further emphasizes the lesson that what begins as something negative (on the surface) can turn into something positive. On the-above verse, we find the comment, “I (G-d) will consider he who learns Torah, does deeds of Gemilus Chassadim (kindness and charity), and prays with a Minyan, as if he redeemed Me (the Divine Presence) and My children from among the nations.” Therefore, as a continuation, since we have already learned Torah together (including listening, to the Torah reading as a community) and prayed together as a Minyan, it is proper that we also give Tzedakah together (even if individuals gave Tzedakah before Minchah, they should now give again).
May it be G-d’s will that the activity in these three services (particularly since it is conducted on Tuesday) bring about the redemption of “Me and My children from among the nations” in the near future.
4. Today’s occasion emphasizes a link that exists between events of the present and the portion of the Torah read this week. The conclusion of today’s Torah portion talks about Shechem, which “I (Yaakov) took from the Amorites with my sword and bow.” Our Sages explain that the words for sword and bow (in Hebrew “charbi v’kashti”) mean “my prayer and supplement
Why does the Talmud’s explanation vary so greatly from the literal translation? What is the significance of the interpretation?
The Written Torah (and its literal translation) have a connection to non-Jews. However, the Oral Law (the Talmud) is for Jews alone. This fundamental premise helps answer the above question.
When the Gentiles come and demand Shechem, Hebron, and the rest of Israel; Torah takes a clear position. It forbids us from relying on miracles. We must meet them with “swords and bows.” The Shulchan Aruch declares, “If Gentiles attack (or even if there are merely warning signals of an attack) a Jewish village, we are obligated to take up weapons and face them (even if in so doing, we transgress the laws of Shabbos). If the city is on the border (and. today almost every Israeli city can be considered to be on the border) then you must take such action even if the Gentiles desire only hay and straw.” Through such action, we will not need to use those arms. The attack will-never come because “a great fear and trembling will fall upon them.”
However, one might make the mistake of thinking that it was his power and his strength that drove the enemy away. Therefore, the Talmud teaches a Jew about “prayer and supplement.” The Jew must realize that his success is not due to his own strength but to G-d’s blessings.
Both elements together cause our enemies “to be silent as stone,” to become like stones and then be used as a support to the wall of Jerusalem, which in turn serves to hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy, “I (G-d) will be a wall of fire (surrounding Jerusalem)” with the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.