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The Fast of Gedaliah


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora

לשיעור זה בעברית: צום גדליה

The Fast of Gedaliah is one of the Four Fasts which the sages and Prophets established in order to commemorate the destruction of the Temple and the nation of Israel. A fast was declared for every stage of the destruction: On the Tenth of Tevet, the King of Babylon laid siege on Jerusalem; on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the city's walls were breached; on the Ninth of Av, the Temple was destroyed; and on the Third of Tishrei, Gedaliah was assassinated.

After the King of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, there remained a small number of Jews in the Judea region. The King then appointed Gedaliah ben Achikam to rule over them, and those Jews who had previously fled to neighboring countries began to gather around him. This small group managed to persevere in the land until, on the third of Tishrei, Yishmael ben Natanya came and murdered Gedaliah ben Achikam. At that point, the remaining Jews were scattered and the demise of Jerusalem was complete.

The sages teach that the day of Gedaliah ben Achikam's assassination was declared a national day of mourning "in order to teach us that the death of a righteous person is tantamount to the destruction of the House of God" (Rosh Hashanah 18b). Certainly the death of this particular saint, who was then the central pillar of the land's small Jewish vestige, together with the fact that a Jew was involved in this act, made the destruction all the more unbearable.

This event occurred during the Ten Day of Repentance. Zachariah the Prophet foresaw that in the future these days would become occasion for celebration and rejoicing: "Thus says the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the House of Judah; therefore, love the truth and peace" (Zachariah 8:19).

Some days possess special intensity. Such days, if we are worthy, are capable of being transformed into holidays. Yet if, Heaven forbid, we are not worthy, they can become days of extreme trial. When worthy, these Ten Days of Repentance are days of rectification and refinement; when not, as was the case in the time of Gedaliah ben Achikam, they occasion severe ruin. But the possibility of rectification is there, it remains, and this, of all days, possesses the unique capacity for being transformed into a day of positive construction and revitalization, new life and sanctity. May it be God's will that this be a year of redemption and salvation, and that the light of faith and Torah shine upon the entire nation of Israel.

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The translated scriptural verse in this article was based upon The Jerusalem Bible (Koren Publishers)



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