1. It is customary that on a fast day, after Minchah, “words of remonstrance” should be spoken. This practice is also related to the words of the Prophet Michah: “... He will suppress our iniquities...,” which indicates that a fast day also includes the theme of teshuvah (repentance), to repent from sin and to transform the iniquities of the past into positive actions. This concept is also taught by Rambam, who brings in the Laws of Fast Days, “This procedure is one of the roads to repentance.’
When we speak of teshuvah on a fast day we speak primarily of one’s personal teshuvah. Since we have the mitzvah of loving a fellow Jew and since one must not separate oneself from the congregation, as we see that our prayers are general? ~sald in the plural form, therefore in addition to our personal teshuvah, we should also influence others to Teshuvah. Through words from the heart, and proper actions, one can influence many others to see, to learn and to act likewise. These words of course must be genuine and heartfelt, but should include also admonition and must reveal the true “heart” and “soul” and even the might of the person.
In speaking of the full potential of the Jewish soul, we know that the Alter Rebbe in Tanya uses the term “mamosh,” “truly,” to describe the soul’s essential relationship to its G-dly source. [Note: “actual,” “real,” “specific,” “truly” all these adjectives combined give a small idea of the meaning of “mamosh.”] The previous Rebbe goes further and compares the word “mamosh,” to the sense of touch, explaining that “mamosh” comes from the root “meshoosh” which means touch. Now, the Rambam explains that the Torah uses human terminology only anthropomorphically when speaking of G-d and he gives references to the “hand” of G-d or the “eye” of G-d. The sense of touch, or physical feeling, is however considered by the Rambam to be too “physical” to be used even metaphorically and anthropomorphically. Yet, the previous Rebbe says, this is specifically the meaning of the word “mamosh,” that a Jewish soul “is truly a part of G-d above!”
This “physical” aspect is connected with a fast day, because although the true meaning of a fast is for one to feel repentance in his heart, nevertheless it must be accomplished by the physical act of not eating and drinking — refraining from things which the body enjoys. The general purpose and goal of a Jew is to reveal the good that is in creation. According to the Midrash the world was completed on the sixth day, nevertheless the Torah says: “... which G-d created to function [or do].” These words mean that G-d took the Jews as His partners in creation and gave us the responsibility to make it function, meaning to improve on it and fix it. Thus the completed world, as it stood on the sixth day of creation, in a condition of “very good,” still needed the action of the Jew to bring it to perfection.
The esoteric explanation given in the Book Etz Chayim is, that all was perfect in the plan of the world before creation. Why then was it necessary to make the real world? To reveal the perfection of G-d’s powers and actions which comes about through a Jew’s action. The Jew can reveal the “mamosh” by his acts of mitzvos. For example, to take his earnings and give tzedakah; and through the act of tzedakah to become connected and attached to G-d. Refinement and purification of the world result and the world is raised; the Jew has effected a higher perfection in the “very good” world.
On the fast day we deal with the mundane, we don’t eat, don’t drink; we fulfill the will of G-d. As G-d said, when we do His commandments it effects a spirit of delight before G-d, “... For I said and My will was done.” We change the pain of the fast to the delight of satisfaction. The AriZal explains that the verse, “... not on bread alone does man live” means, that when we eat the physical bread that gives us life we also draw spiritual sustenance from the word of G-d, that enliven and creates the bread. So in a sense the soul needs physical bread to reach G-d’s word. Yet on a fast day, which is a day of suffering — the exact opposite of pleasure — we can still transform it to a day of ultimate delight, by doing the will of Hashem. This facet is common to all fasts. There is however the unique aspect of each fast, just as we know that in all matters “each day must accomplish its special mission.”
What then is special about this fast of the 10th of Teves? It is the day in which the siege on Yerushalayim started. As the Prophet Yechezkel says: “... The king of Bavel has invested [surrounded] Yerushalayim....”
In that same verse we find a terminology not normally used in such cases.
Write the name of the day, of [b’etzem] this same day: The King of Bavel has invested [surrounded] Yerushalayim on [b’etzem] this very day.
In relation to this the Beis Yosef brings the opinion of the Avudraham that: “If the 10th of Teves were to rni nc with Shabbos it could not
be postponed to another day because the verse says ‘on this same day’ just like by Yom Kippur.”
Can the 10th of Teves really surpass the joy of Shabbos so that we would have to fast on Shabbos? According to what was explained earlier that the fast days transform the “desire” it would be understandable. Normally to fast would be opposite to the delight of Shabbos. For example even a “dream fast” is permitted by Shulchan Aruch on Shabbos on the condition that one would have to compensate for fasting on Shabbos, by fasting another day as penance. Yom Kippur however would be a case where the desire and delight of Shabbos would be completely transformed and fasting would be the mitzvah.
The 10th of Teves apparently would have the same rule. The word “b’etzem” used to describe the 10th of Teves would be similar to the word “Etzumdl referring to Yom Kippur.
If so, the 10th of Teves has an aspect which makes it more severe and stricter than the other four fasts of the year. The “essence” [b’etzem] of the day, referred to in the verse, is related to the “essence” [etzumo] of the day of Yom Kippur, and also to the essential soul level of “yechidah,” the inner oneness of the soul! Thus the fast of the 10th of Teves reaches the essence of the desire.
But what actually makes this fast day so different from the others? In simple terms, how can we explain this essential difference, so that it should be understood even by an average person who is not a scholar, and is not versed in homiletic or esoteric knowledge?
Historically, the four fasts associated with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash occurred in a sequence. The 17th of Tammuz which commemorates the day when the walls of Yerushalayim were breached, came after the period of siege initiated on the 10th of Teves. Tishah BeAv and the destruction of the Temple came as a result of, and in sequence to, the 17th of Tammuz, and the fast of Gedaliah followed the day and events of Tishah BeAv.
This means that when the “measure was filled” and the walls of Yerushalayim were surrounded, the Jewish people in effect were shown the first stage of trouble and were given a chance to repent and return to G-d. When teshuvah was not forthcoming, the second stage happened and the walls of Yerushalayim were smashed. Still, we could have done teshuvah — but it did not happen — so the terrible destruction continued, and on the ninth of Av the Temple was destroyed and countless Jewish martyrs sUt)Fiticed their lives-. Even this did not have the desired results and Gedaliah, who had been appointed to govern the land, was murdered by his own kith and kin. So the Prophet tells us, that the 10th of Teves was the start of this process — if not for the start the subsequent calamities would not have followed. If the Jews had acted properly and repented after the 10th of Teves, the sequence of tragic events would have ceased. Everyone understands that even in elementary things when you don’t let something start and you nip it in the bud, it is simple to stop in later. If you allow a bad thing to start then, just as one good deed brings another, so too in the realm of evil. The 10th of Teves brought to the 17th of Tammuz, ninth of Av and Fast of Gedaliah.
In contemporary times, if after the 10th of Teves there is a movement of teshuvah then, as the Rambam says, the fast days will be changed to holidays — including also the 10th of Teves. Similarly, at the beginning of some negative phenomenon we stand up and push away the evil, we will be victorious. The commencement has in it the potential for all future results and the Jew has the power to change darkness to light and bitterness to sweetness, by changing the fast day to a time of desire and delight. All the world will be changed. He will introduce the “aleph” of the world into “galus” (exile) and he will make “geulah” (redemption) and bring about the redemption of the Jews and of the Shechinah.
2. In addition to the general lesson which we take from the 10th of Teves every year, there is a special lesson to be learned from the particular day of the week that the 10th of Teves occurs on and the designated Torah portion of that day.
Occurring on Thursday, in the week of Parshas Vayechi, the 10th of Teves, this year, has a connection with the portion of Vayechi in general, and particularly with the fifth segment of the portion, which would apply to Thursday.
There is a well known dictum of the Alter Rebbe, that we must “live” with the times. The previous Rebbe explained this to mean the lessons we draw from the weekly and daily Torah portion, for our daily lives.
At the beginning of Vayechi the Baal Haturim comments, on the words “Vayechi Yaakov — and Yaakov lived” that the 17 years Yaakov lived in Egypt were the best years of his life.
The explanation of this idea has been transmitted to us in the form of the story. The Tzemach Tzedek once asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, how it was possible, that Yaakov, who was the chosen one of the Patriarchs, should live the best years of his life in Egypt, which was the “lowliest” land in the world? To which the Alter Rebbe replied, that it says “Yaakov sent Yehudah ahead of him to make preparations in Goshen,” on which the Midrash says: “to establish a house of study.” This was done so that there would be Torah in Egypt and the tribes would devote themselves to study. Thus the term “to make preparations, ahead of him, etc.,” may be understood that, “when we study Torah [make preparations] we come close to G-d [to Him].” Then even if he was in Mitzrayim, Yaakov could be in a state of “Vayechi” — the best years of his life!
This of course is the general lesson we learn from the portion of Vayechi, that by learning Torah we can reveal the “good” and the “very good” in every place in the world. So that even in Egypt, which was the abomination of the world, eYza there the chosen of the Patriarchs could live his best years.
The fifth section of Vayechi starts with the blessing given to Gad; “Gad shall provide a raiding troop and his troop shall return on its path.” Rashi explains this as follows:
All [these terms] are connected with the word troop ... “troops will troop out of him,” signifying that they, the Gadites, will cross the Jordan with their brethren, all armed, and remain with them until the land will have been conquered. All his troops will return in their own tracks back to their territory which they will receive on the other side of the Jordan and not one of them will be missing.
The true spiritual theme of conquering the land of Canaan, was to take a country which had become as defiled as Egypt, and to reveal its true essence. that it was really a land where “... the eyes of the Eternal your L-rd are there from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”
How does this take place? When the armed scouts will pass before the rest of the Jews and especially the soldiers of the Tribe of Gad. For the legions of Gad gathered and established many troops, and revealed in those men their inner potential and innate powers. They were shown how their Divine service could be perfected to the degree of “all your heart, all your soul, and all your might,” and as this is brought into the reality of the world, it gave them the ability to conquer the land. Their influence also reached the degree of perfection, that not one of their men was lost.
The Torah, being eternal, carries an eternal message for us, that the blessings given to each individual tribe also related to all the other tribes and therefore also for all Israel, today.
What does this mean for us?
Everyone must do all he can to gather troops that will be involved in the work of conquering the land, by revealing G-dliness in the world. In that way it will also bring the “eyes of G-d” into everyplace, [Here too can we make Eretz Yisrael!] including also the land of Canaan or Egypt.
At the end of today’s portion we find the verse: “... for the brow of the elect of his brothers.” Targum Yonasan ben Uziel and Targum Yerushalmi interpret this verse, which refers to Yosef, in the following manner. “Nezir Echav,” “nezir” comes from the word “nezer,” which means a diadem or crown. Yosef was careful and concerned about the honor [crown] of his brothers!
This interpretation teaches us an astounding lesson in Ahavas Yisrael — love of a fellow Jew. Despite the fact that Yosef’s brothers had mistreated him, to the point that they sold him to a passing caravan, Yosef did not repay them in kind. Not only did he not mistreat them, but he also did not allow them to be dishonored, and even more so, he was careful and concerned to show them respect and give them honor!
The Targum uses the word “Zahir” (brilliance) regarding Yosef’s attitude towards his brothers. This brings us to the meaning, that his conduct of love and respect to his brothers served as a conduit for all his other good deeds, and also shone and illuminated his life. All aspects of Yosef’s Divine service shone with the light and brilliance of his lofty moral conduct.
This teaches us such a profound moral. See how careful you must be in your practice of Ahavas Yisrael, even towards someone who has acted improperly towards you! The Alter Rebbe describes this in classic form in Tanya chapter 12: “... not to be provoked ... to revenge in kind, G-d forbid; but rather to repay the offenders with favors, as taught in the Zohar, that one should learn from the example of Yosef towards his brothers.”
This theme is also connected to the beginning of the Torah portion, “Gad shall provide a raiding troop....” In order for Gad to establish a troop of many men who will be capable of conquering the land, there must first be a foundation of Ahavas Yisrael. The quality and form of the Ahavas Yisrael must be such that they are “concerned and careful of his [their] brothers’ honor.” With an approach based on such Ahavas Yisrael you can establish many troops, even enlist the entire nation. You will effect the real meaning of: “With our youth and our elders ... our sons and daughters” and all will be dedicated to the ideals of Torah and mitzvos, including the mitzvah of conquering the complete land.
There is another detail and aspect of this theme that should be stressed. Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity bring an improvement and increase in the ultimate Torah study and observance of mitzvos. “Close association with colleagues” and “sharp discussion with students” are modes of conduct which contribute to the acquisition of Torah. Also, a mitzvah performed by a congregation is loftier than one performed by an individual. Similarly, the unity of the Jewish people will guarantee the success in conquering the land, especially when we are unified in a manner of, “Your nation are all righteous.”
So too, when, on a fast day all the Jews fast together, pray together, study Torah together and give charity together, they thereby accomplish the ultimate perfection of ‘all being righteous’ in the three pillars of support for the world, and then success can be expected; they “go out to war and wi 11 succeed.”
It now becomes clear that the theme of “Gad shall provide a raiding troop” in the spiritual realm of world conquest will meet with success and everyone will return unscathed.
For they march out proudly, with the “pride of Yaakov,” to fulfill the mission of the Holy One, Blessed be He, to “function” and to “do,” to reveal the “very good” of every creature in existence. Their mission also includes the 70 nations of the world, even the most corrupt of nations, for even there, they will reveal G-dliness. They make it clear and evident that, “All that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.”
This, then, is the common theme of all these topics: The Divine service of every Jew, as expressed and emphasized on the fast of the 10th of Teves, in relation to the Torah portion of the day of the week and how it reveals in everything the holiness and goodness, which formulates a “dwelling place for G-d in the lower world.”
3. The segment of Rambam assigned to today includes the first three chapters of the Laws of Robbery and Lost Property which comes after the conclusion of the section on the Laws of Theft.
The order which the Rambam chooses in these laws, is based on the-order in the Torah, which first speaks of theft in the portion of Mishpatim and later teaches the laws of robbery in Vayikra and lost property in Ki Tetze.
On the other hand, the Alter Rebbe, in his Code of Jewish Law, section Choshen Mishpat, which presents to us “collected, necessary laws,” first covers the laws of robbery and then the laws of theft. The reason for this seems to be that practically speaking, one can correct an act of robbery sooner and easier than a theft. By robbery we mean an act which was committed openly, often in front of many people, so that there is no need for investigations or detective work. Everyone knows what happened and the criminal can repent immediately. Theft however, which was done secretly, needs investigation and corroboration. There are many unclear points: will the thief confess, do we need the presentation of witnesses, etc. It is much more complicated and time-consuming. Therefore when we speak of correcting the crime and doing teshuvah it is harder to repent for an unknown or unclear theft than for a blatant robbery. He might think that maybe it really wasn’t a sin. For this reason also, the “korban” (sacrifice) for a questionable crime — the “asham” — is more expensive than the korban for a clear cut crime — the “chatas.” This may also be connected to the “words of admonition” that were mentioned earlier.
Why does the Rambam include the laws of theft with the laws of lost property?
In an esoteric manner, we may explain robbery as relating to all sins. When a person transgresses, he robs the realm of holiness, removes his soul from its proper place and blatantly — in front of G-d — transfers it to the realm of the opposing forces of evil. Why? How can he do this? Because of “lost property.” He has lost something! What? The Talmud in tractate Sotah says: “No person commits any transgression unless a spirit of folly has entered into him.” The person has become a fool and the fool is one who has lost something, as the Talmud relates in Chagigah: “Who is deemed an imbecile, one that destroys [loses] all that is given to him.”
Every Jew has the spark of G-dliness which is a part of the Divine and descends into his Jewish soul. It is a part of the effulgence of the Divine Name of “mah.” This divine spark can be “lost” if it is not cared for and nurtured, putting the person in the category of fool. A fool is capable of sinning. So the “lost article” brought the person to rob. In order to return the stolen item he must search for the lost item — which is the general theme of teshuvah — to seek and search for the spark of G-dliness he lost. And then, to put everything back in its rightful place. In the course of this process of teshuvah, his G-dly soul will also accomplish the refinement of his animalistic aspects and will attain the role and posit; an of sole ruler of his destiny.
Similarly in regard to a Jew’s role in the world.
In the case of Eretz Yisrael, we are told in Tanchuma that when G-d created the world He allocated all the lands and chose Eretz Yisrael for Himself. From among all the nations of the world He chose the Jewish people. Therefore, the Jews, who are the portion of G-d, should inherit G-d’s land. In other words, Eretz Yisrael originally was designated for the Jewish people.
What about total creation? The Midrash teaches, and Rashi cites at the start of Bereishis, that the world was created for the sake of the Jews, who are called “first” and for the sake of the Torah which is called “first,” which means, for the sake of the Jews, who live according to Torah, study Torah and bring it into action — starting with prayer and charity.
Now, when the reality does not match the plan and the world is not totally in the arena of holiness, this must be because the holy spark of the world is “lost” or “stolen.” The role of the Jew is to search, find and restore the G-dly spark, that utterance of G-d which creates, invigorates and sustains the world, and return it to its rightful place in the realm of holiness — the arena of the Jew. This will also reveal the aspect of “very good” in all worldly matters.
Which brings us to a discussion of some of the details in today’s section of Rambam. At the beginning of Laws of Robbery the Rambam states:
If one robs another of property he transgresses a negative commandment, for it is said, “Thou shall not ... rob him.”
He continues in paragraph two:
On the authority of Scripture, it is forbidden to take by robbery anything whatever (even if it is worth less than a ‘perutah’).
The Alter Rebbe explains this point, that although less than a perutah is not considered to be of monetary value, nevertheless the Torah always prohibits even a fraction of the measure.
See how severe the sin of robbery is! Even the most insignificant item must not be removed from its rightful place! Similarly in a Jew’s moral, Divine service, how careful he must be, that every small detail which has the G-dly spark must be in its proper place and not get lost” into the sphere of the forces of evil.
The Rambam also states:
No flogging is incurred for breach of this prohibition, since Scripture has transformed it into a positive commandment, for if one commits robbery, he is obliged to make restitution, as it is said, “He shall restore that which he took by robbery,” which is a positive commandment.
Of course one may not bring upon himself the dubious distinction of wanting to fulfill this mitzvah, by doing the sin! We do see from here however, that if by some chance someone has transgressed and failed in his G-dly responsibility, it should not cause despondency. On the contrary, he can still make restitution, he might even have the opportunity to fulfill another mitzvah, which otherwise would have not applied to him. He can transform the darkness back into light.
The connection among the Rambam, the Torah portion and the theme of the fast now becomes evident.
Revealing the “very good” of the world and changing the discomfort of a fast to be a “day of desire” is the essential theme of the fast. Hopefully also, it is the ultimate goal of existence to convert the exile to redemption.
Conquering the land through the “troops” of Gad has the same connotation. It indicates refining the body through prayer, the inner battle of the G-dly soul versus the animal instincts, to become more spiritual. Also to reveal the G-dliness of everything in the world.
But of course this battle of the troops of Gad must be waged peacefully and pleasantly. By marching out proudly with an “uplifted hand,” and by displaying our bond with G-d, Torah and mitzvos. The world will be conquered in a pleasant and peaceful manner. “All the nations of the world will see that G-d’s Name is associated with you, and they will be in awe of you.”
This is the same idea that the Rambam brings in the Laws of Robbery — there is a G-dly spark in everything and if it is lost or stolen the Jew must restore it to its rightful place.
Another theme connects this segment of Rambam with the 10th of Teves.
One aspect of our role in exile is to teach the gentile world the Seven Noachide Laws as transmitted by G-d through Moshe. On the 10th of Teves, as was mentioned earlier, the Prophet says: “The king of Bavel surrounded Yerushalayim on this same day.” The word “somach” [surrounded] has the meaning of closeness. When the enemies of the Jews laid siege to the Holy City, at the same time, they also brought themselves in close proximity to the Jews, so that the Jews could more easily influence them. No need to travel far and wide to find goyim, they are right outside the walls of Yerushalayim. Go out and influence them! In this way they are “helping” the Jews to fulfill their responsibility of teaching them.
Thus when the Rambam writes: “On the authority of Scripture, it is forbidden to take by robbery absolving ... Even a heathen must not be robbed,” he brings the non-Jew into the case. The Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch rephrases this and says: “It is forbidden to rob ... anything ... either from a Jew or from a heathen either an adult or a child,” putting in a phraseology of “either — or” and bringing the non-Jew even closer.
This emphasizes and underlines our relationship and our responsibility to non-Jews, to use the opportunities which present themselves to teach them the seven Noachide Laws.
May it be the will of Heaven that on this day of grace, the 10th of Teves, which has the qualities even of Yom Kippur, we should use them to further all aspects of G-dly service connected with the fast day. We must remember that the walls are still complete and if we use this opportunity, no further calamity will occur. So let this fast day be converted to a holiday of joy and rejoicing, by the redemption of our righteous Mashiach.
As the previous Rebbe said, we just have to “polish the buttons” of the uniforms in order to be ready to greet Mashiach.
And while we are still in the last moments of the galus (exile) there should be effected the unity of Torah, Divine worship and tzedakah — davening Minchah together, reading the Torah and Haftorah, and distributing dollar bills for the purpose of giving tzedakah. This makes the exile a place where even “Yaakov lived,” a truly good life, connected to “Torah of life” and the ‘G-d of life’ in the spiritual “land of life,” wherever Jews may find themselves. Until we merit to go to the physical “land of life,” “with our youth and elders, sons and daughters.” The unity of our people, our Torah and our Land.
We speak of the complete Eretz Yisrael — first and foremost the land of the Seven Nations which should be returned peacefully to the Jewish people — all those segments which have not as yet been conquered. Certainly, also, we must strongly retain all that we did conquer through G-d’s manifest miracles, which were attested to by all the peoples of the world.
In addition to this we should also have control over those lands included in the promised expansion of Eretz Yisrael: “Kini, Knizi and Kadmoni.
May this all happen in a split second, so that we will “break our fast” on the redemption, through our righteous Mashiach, may he arrive and take us proudly to our land, in a manner of quickly, “on the clouds of heaven,” since we are truly “worthy.”