It is a well-established Jewish custom that was recently renewed to give an address that will motivate the people to teshuvah on a fast day.
The fast days share a common message -- they are all "days of will" on which we pray to G-d, our merciful Father, to negate all fasts and transform them into festivals. Furthermore, the four fasts associated with the destruction of the Temple share a common theme. Nevertheless, there is a particular lesson that can be learned from each fast, and thus, in regard to the present fast, the Fast of Gedaliah.
That lesson can be clarified within the context of the previous statement that a fast day is "a day of will." G-d's will, the thirteen attributes of mercy, which transcend hishtalshelus, are revealed and expressed then. This concept is brought out by the Haftorah recited on a fast day which teaches us to "seek out G-d when He is to be found, call to Him when He is close." Though this revelation transcends the creation, it is drawn down until the lowest levels. Thus, the Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 17b) teaches the thirteen attributes of mercy never return unanswered. Since their source transcends creation, they have no limit or boundary and can be drawn down to the lowest levels. Thus, this revelation will have an effect throughout the entire world, even upon the gentiles. This is also alluded to in the Haftorah which mentions "the sons of the foreigners who adhere to the L-rd?" and how "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." These two seemingly opposite concepts -- the revelation of the highest levels of G-dliness and having them drawn down to the lowest levels -- have a particular relation to the Fast of Gedaliah.
The Fast of Gedaliah is commemorated within the Ten Days of Repentance. The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 18a) explains that the verse cited above, "Seek G-d when He is to be found, call to Him when He is close," is particularly relevant to this period of time. During this period, the prayers of a single individual have the same power as the prayers of a community. Thus, on the Fast of Gedaliah, G-d is "to be found" and "closer," not only because of the influence of the communal fast, not only because of the influence of the Ten Days of Teshuvah, but because of the combined effect of both.
At present, there is an added influence, that of communal prayer. Even though during the ten days of repentance the prayers of an individual have the same power of those of a community during the entire year, one can surely understand that the prayers of a community are also on a higher level during these days.
The concept of community is integrally related to a fast day. The intent of a fast is to nullify the negative influences which brought about the fast, and, furthermore, transform the fast into a day of happiness and rejoicing. This is related to the concept of Ahavas Yisroel and Achdus Yisroel -- the love for one's fellow Jews and the unity among them. This nullifies the reason for the exile -- baseless hatred and brings about its transformation. Thus, we can understand how the influence of communal prayer contributes an added quality to the Fast of Gedaliah. This is particularly true when the community joins together in a three-fold bond of Torah-study, prayer, and charity and even more so when these activities are carried out in a synagogue and a house of study. In such a gathering, surely, the thirteen attributes of mercy will be revealed in the most complete manner and that revelation will effect even the lowest elements of existence.
The Fast of Gedaliah is associated with Rosh HaShanah. Indeed, according to many authorities, Gedaliah's murder took place on Rosh HaShanah, however, the fast was postponed until the following day.
Rosh HaShanah also emphasizes the two aspects mentioned above: a) the revelation of the highest levels of G-dliness and; b) their expression on the lowest levels.
Rosh HaShanah represents the renewal of the entire creation. Before Rosh HaShanah the life-force for all existence returns to its ultimate source, G-d's essence and from there it descends with new life. In Iggeres Hakodesh 14, the Alter Rebbe writes, "Each and every year...descends a new and higher light which has never yet shown."
Thus, Rosh HaShanah represents the peak of elevation, the revelation of G-d's will which transcends all creation. Nevertheless, this revelation descends to the lowest levels, to this physical world. Indeed, the Rabbis stress that the judgment of Rosh HaShanah centers primarily on matters of this world, that we should be inscribed for a good life, for an abundant livelihood. Furthermore, the judgment of Rosh HaShanah effects all the nations, "all the inhabitants of the world pass before You as sheep." Thus, on Rosh HaShanah, G-dly influence, His very essence, is drawn down from the highest levels, until the lowest points of existence.
There is a further concept related to the above: The essence of the revelation of Divine light in the lower realms involves the internationalization of that light. Not only should G-dliness be revealed because of the infinite power of His light, but also, the world itself becomes a vessel for the revelation of G-dliness. This involves transcending its particular boundaries and limitations, for only through such transcendence will the world be able to become a vessel for the revelation of G-d's infinite light.
In the Messianic era, G-dliness will be revealed in this manner. Thus, the Messianic prophecies relate: "The glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see", "I will transform all the nations to a refined tongue", "the sovereignty will be G-d's." Chassidic thought emphasizes that the term "sovereignty" -- "Malchus" -- implies the subject's willful acceptance of the king's rule. Though this revelation will take place in the Messianic era, it is our service at present in the time of exile which will bring about this revelation.
The potential for this service was granted at the time of the Giving of the Torah. Then, there was a microcosm of the Messianic revelation. The giving of the Torah represented the nullification of the Divine decree separating the spiritual from the physical and allowing complete unity between G-d's essence and the lowest aspects of material existence.
[This is also related to Rosh HaShanah. Indeed, one of the explanations for the mitzvah of blowing Shofar is to recall the Shofar blowing that accompanied the giving of the Torah.]
After the potential was granted with the giving of the Torah, each Jew has the power to elevate and refine the world and all the different entities contained within it. This service is the proper preparation for the ultimate perfection of the world that will take place in the Messianic Age.
Included in the above is the refinement of the gentile nations through influencing them to observe the Seven Noachide Laws. Indeed, the Rambam states that "Moshe was commanded by the Almighty to compel all the inhabitants of the world to accept the Seven Noachide Laws." This, in turn, will motivate the gentiles to assist the Jews in all that they need. This will also serve as a preparation for the Messianic redemption which will also effect gentiles as explained above.
The above is relevant to the Fast of Gedaliah every year. This year, the third of Tishrei, the day on which the Fast of Gedaliah is usually held, takes on added significance because it falls on the Shabbos. Hence, the fast is postponed until the following day and a connection is established between the fast and the Shabbos.
The Shabbos is characterized by the quality of pleasure as Scripture (Yeshayahu 58:13) states, "and you shall call the Shabbos a delight." Furthermore, in addition to drawing down pleasure from the spiritual realms, a Jew is commanded to "delight in the Shabbos," to add a certain dimension of pleasure of his own.
The Talmud (Shabbos 118a) declares, "Whoever delights in the Shabbos is given a boundless inheritance... as the verse (Bereishis 28:14) states "and you shall burst forth westward, eastward, northward and southward." This breaks down all the boundaries and limitations and prepares the world for the Messianic redemption.
The above is also related to the Torah portion associated with the present day, the first section of the parshah of Berachah -- blessing. This alludes to a blessing from the source of all blessing, G-d's essence, which is drawn down within the context of our physical world.
Our Sages taught: "Deed is most essential." As we stand together on this "day of will," it is appropriate to join together in the services of Torah, prayer, and deeds of kindness. Performing these in a spirit of unity and love will cause us to merit all the blessings implicit by the request we make in our prayers "Bless us, our Father, all together as one." Similarly, the Previous Rebbe would declare: "Stand prepared, all of you..." to receive the blessings from G-d from His "full open, holy, and generous hand."
Thus, we must add to our efforts in our love of our fellow Jews and unity with our fellow Jews as Rabbi Akiva declared: "Love your neighbor as yourself is a great general principle of the Torah." This should lead to increased activity in all the other mivtzoyim.
To connect all the above with actual deed, at the conclusion of this address, the tankists will distribute dollars to be given to charity. May these activities, performed in a spirit of unity, at a time when the thirteen attributes of mercy are revealed, draw down great blessings. May all the above be drawn down in actual deed and thus, hasten the complete and ultimate redemption to be led by Moshiach. This is also related to giving charity as the Talmud (B. Basra 10a) states, "Great is charity for it brings close the redemption." May it hasten Moshiach's coming "on the clouds of heaven," speedily in our days.