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tamuz 5761

The Four Fasts of the Destruction


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated to the memory of
R. Avraham Ben David

לשיעור זה בעברית: ארבעת צומות החורבן

1. Institution of the Fasts
2. The Tenth Day of Tevet
3. The Seventeenth Day of Tammuz
4. The Ninth Day of Av
5. The Fast of Gedaliah

Institution of the Fasts
After the First Temple was destroyed, the Prophets instituted fasts marking the tragic events surrounding the Destruction and the ensuing exile of the Jewish People. This step was taken in order to prompt the nation to grieve and mourn over the Destruction and Exile. It was intended that by so doing, people would repent and mend their corrupt ways, for it was the evil ways of the people which brought on all of the difficulties which befell the nation, and which continue to befall us even until today.
On the tenth day of the month of Tevet they instituted a fast because on that day Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, began his siege on the walls of Jerusalem. In the month of Tammuz, a fast was instituted because in that month the walls of the city were breached. On the ninth day of the month of Av (Tisha B'Av) a fast was instituted because on it our Holy Temple was destroyed. And on the third day of the month of Tishrei they instituted a fast marking the death of Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the leader of the Jews who remained in Judah after the Destruction of the Temple. With his death the last burning coal of Jewish rule in the Land was extinguished.

And in this manner the people fasted, about seventy years, until the building of the Second Temple. At that time the people asked: "Must we continue to observe these fasts?" to which Zechariah the Prophet responded: "So said the God of Legions: 'The fourth fast (the fast of Tammuz, the fourth month), and the fifth fast (Tisha B'Av), and the seventh fast (the third of Tishrei), and the tenth fast (the tenth of Tevet) will become for the House of Judah times joy and happiness and pleasant occasions; therefore love the truth and the peace.'" And so it was that during the period of the Second Temple, these days of fasting became days of joy and happiness.

With the Destruction of the Second Temple the original ordinance was reinstated and the people returned to fasting on all four fast days. Yet the date of one of the fasts changed - the fast which had been instituted in the month of Tammuz, marking the breaching of the walls. In the Destruction of the First Temple the walls were breached on the ninth of Tammuz, and on this day they fasted during the seventy years of Babylonian exile. In the Destruction of the Second Temple, though, the walls were breached on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, and it is on this date that we fast until today. And though the actual institution of the fasts by the Prophets was established because of the Destruction of the First Temple (and we therefore fast on the tenth of Tevet - the day on which Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, placed a siege on the Jerusalem during the Destruction of the First Temple, and on the third of Tishrei - the day on which the last remnant of Jewish rule was abolished at the end of the period of the First Temple), when it came to marking the breaching of the walls, the sages instituted a day of fasting on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, when the walls were breached by the Romans in the time of the Second Temple. This is because the pain of the Second Temple is closer to us than that of the First. This, too, remains in keeping with the words of Zechariah who, as we have mentioned, referred to this fast as the "fourth fast," indicating that the essence of its institution was that it be in the fourth month, that is, Tammuz. And therefore even when the later sages changed the day of the fast from the ninth to the seventeenth day of Tammuz, they didn't, in so doing, change the institution of the prophets to fast in the fourth month because of the breaching of the walls of the city. Concerning the fast on the ninth of Av, Tisha B'Av, no change was made, for both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on that day.

The Tenth Day of Tevet

On the tenth of Tevet a fast was instituted, because on that day Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, came with his soldiers and laid siege on Jerusalem. This siege marked the beginning of the divine visitation which ended in the Destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence. And though in the days of the Second Temple the siege began on a different date, the beginning of the Destruction of the Temples, collectively, and of the collapse of the Kingdom of Israel was on the tenth of Tevet.
Once this fast had been established on the tenth of Tevet, two additional tragic historical events which had taken place close to the tenth of Tevet, were added as reasons for fasting on this date: the death of Ezra the Scribe on the ninth of Tevet, and the translation of the Torah from its original Hebrew into the Greek language on the eighth of Tevet.

The sages said, concerning Ezra the Scribe, that he was worthy of having the Torah given through him, had Moses not preceded him. He, then, is second to Moses. In addition, the sages said that Ezra the Scribe who came from Babylon in order to establish the Second Temple was, in fact, Mulatto the Prophet. We can say concerning Ezra the Scribe that while on the one hand he is the last of the prophets connected with the written tradition, on the other hand he fixed ten general ordinances, and in so doing began the legacy of the sages of the oral tradition. So, he is a giant of the Jewish People who served as a link between the written and oral traditions. In addition, he, like Moses, concerned himself with the welfare of the entire Jewish People, took upon himself the burden of their leadership, and was lead the people in their return from Babylon and in the reconstruction of the Second Temple.

Later, in the days of the Kingdom of Greece a harsh decree was brought upon the Jewish People: to translate the Torah into the Greek language. That day, say the sages, was "as distressing as the day on which the Golden Calf was made." For the Torah is the possession of the Jewish People, and by translating it into Greek, its uniqueness was lost, and it began to be viewed as the sort of thing which anybody could grasp. That happened on the eighth of Tevet, and as a result the world suffered darkness for three days. Therefore on the fast of the Tenth of Tevet we also recall this painful event.

Our teacher, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook zt"l, said on this day, the Tenth of Tevet, one should strive to mend these three things. A) Instead of a besieged Jerusalem, we should strengthen her walls. B) Instead of the death of Ezra, we should increase Torah and glorify it. C) Instead of a Greek translation of the Torah, we should strengthen the original Israeli spirit and culture, and uproot from it the evil spirits which attached themselves to it during the exile and foreign rule.

The Seventeenth Day of Tammuz
The sages said in the Mishnah: "Five tragic events befell our ancestors on the Seventeenth Day of Tammuz: The Tablets were broken, the Daily Sacrifice was discontinued, the walls of the city were breached, and Apostomos burned the Torah and erected a idol in the Temple."

After receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, Moses stayed on the Mountain forty days and forty nights, learning Torah from the mouth of the Almighty himself. When he came down the mountain with the Tablets of the Covenant in his hands, upon which were written the Ten Commandments, and saw that a golden calf had been erected and a portion of the people had been attracted to worshiping it, he immediately lost his strength and broke the Tablets. And so, not only were the Tablets broken on the Seventeenth Day of Tammuz, but the Sin of the Calf itself took place on the very same day.

The second occurrence - the discontinuation of the Daily Sacrifice. The Daily Sacrifice, or Tamid , was the most important sacrifice that was offered up in the Temple. Its importance stemmed from its regularity, for the Tamid offering was sacrificed every day, once in the morning and once in the evening. At the time of the first Roman siege on Jerusalem, the Romans themselves would supply lambs for the Tamid offering. This continued until the sixteenth of Tammuz - the seventeenth of Tammuz was the first day on which the Jews ceased to offer up the Tamid.
The third occurrence was the burning of the Torah by Apostomos, one of the ministers of Rome. The fourth occurrence - the erection of a statue in the Holy Temple. Some say that this took place in the time of the First Temple, and that, in fact, King Menashe was responsible for the statue. Others maintain, as we have said, that the event took place in the days of the second Temple, and that Apostomos the wicked was responsible.

Yet the incident because of which the fast was finally instituted was the fifth event: the breaching of the walls Jerusalem. For about three years the Romans sieved the walls of the city of Jerusalem - and to no avail. Finally, because of groundless hatred for one another and civil war, the Jewish defenders were weakened, and the Romans got the upper hand. On the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the Romans managed to breach the walls of the City of Jerusalem and to force their way in. With the splitting of the wall, the fate of the battle took, in essence, a decided turn for the worse. For three more weeks the battles continued to rage inside of Jerusalem, until finally, on the ninth of the month of Av, The Temple mount was conquered, Second Temple burned and the long exile began.

When we look closely we can see that there is an inner bond connecting the five things which occurred on the Seventeenth of Tammuz. In each there is an expression of crisis which initially strikes the spiritual foundations, cracks the wall of faith, and delivers a serious blow which, if not mended immediately, will bring about complete destruction, similar to that of Tisha B'Av. The Sin of the Golden Calf the was not a demonstration of complete heresy. Those who sinned still believed in God, the Creator of the Universe, rather, the people believed that the calf possessed a certain degree of power. Yet because they began to sin through idol worship, they weren't strong enough later to see through the claims of the spies, rebelling against God and against his servant Moses. They sinned against the purpose for which the Jewish People were formed - to reveal the Divine Presence in the world. The same can be said concerning the cessation of the Tamid offering, the erection of an idol in the Temple, and the burning of the Torah. Though they in themselves were not the Destruction of the Temple, they constituted spiritually, an essential assault on the Temple, a blow whose impact , if not mended, would split the wall, and lead to total destruction.

The Ninth Day of Av
The sages said in the Mishna: "Five things befell our ancestors on the Ninth of Av: It was decreed that our ancestors would not be permitted to enter the Land, both the first and second Temples were destroyed, Betar was taken, and the City was plowed over.
The first event befell the generation which wandered in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Moses gave in to the requests of the people and sent twelve spies to search out the Land of Canaan. Upon their return, ten of the twelve spies gave an evil report of the Land claiming that they would not be able to conquer the Land of Canaan because its inhabitants are mighty and giant. In so doing weakened the hearts of the people. "And all of the congregation lifted up its voice and cried; and the people wept that night. And all of the Children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them: 'If only we had died in the Land of Egypt, or if only we had died in the wilderness! And why has God brought us to this land to fall by the sword leaving our wives and our children as prey? Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?' And they said to one another, 'Let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt?'"

And though Joshua and Caleb reprimanded them saying: "The Land is exceedingly good. If God is pleased by us then he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey. Just don't rebel against the Lord, and don't fear the people of the Land, for they are like our bread, their defense is departed from them, and God is with us, fear them not." Yet the response was: "And the whole congregation said to stone them with stones."
The Sin of the Spies was greater than the Sin of the Golden Calf, for in the Sin of the Golden Calf the people had not renounced God and Moses completely, they simply strayed to idol worship. It was believed that since Moses had disappeared, God would no longer appear to them in His glory and might, and therefore it was necessary to look for an idol which would serve as a mediator between them and their Creator. It was for this reason that after the Sin of the Golden Calf God forgave the people. In the Sin of the Spies, though, the people denied the ability of God to be active in the world, and to assist them in conquering the Land. In addition they denied the central mission for which the world was created and for which the Jewish People chosen - to reveal the Divine Presence in this world, via the Land of Israel. Therefore the Sin of the Spies was not forgiven, and it was decreed that all those who were involved in the transgression would die in the wilderness. Only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Yefuneh, who did not take part in the sin, were privileged to enter the Land.

The night on which the people cried and expressed contempt for the Land was the night of the ninth of Av. The Holy One Blessed be He said: "You cried for no reason, and so I will establish for you weeping for all generations." In that very same moment it was decreed that the Holy Temple would be destroyed.

During the Sin of the Golden Calf the walls of faith were broken through, and as a result the walls of Jerusalem were broken through; a rift was set in the honor of the Torah, and in the service of the Holy Temple. During the Sin of the Spies the fundamental faith in the mission of the Jewish People - to sanctify God's name in the world - was destroyed. All of the hardships that resulted from this particular sin signify elimination and destruction of our capacity to reveal holiness while firmly settled in the Land of Israel. Firstly, it was decreed on the Ninth of Av that the entire generation would not enter the Land. Later, since the nation did not manage to mend the Sin of the Spies, that very same transgression caused the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. And because even afterwards we still had not corrected the Sin of the Spies, with the defeat of Bar Kochba, the stronghold town of Betar too was destroyed, and the city of Jerusalem was plowed over. All of these are painful events which prevented the Divine Presence from residing in Jerusalem, and therefore we mourn and fast on Tisha B'Av.

The Fast of Gedaliah
On the third day of the month of Tishrei, Gedaliah son of Ahikam was killed. After the Destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the majority of the people to Babylon, the King of Babylon appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam as ruler over those Jews who remained in Judah after the Destruction. Jerimaiah the Prophet pinned his hopes on the saved remnant in Judah. He believed that through their establishing themselves in the Land, they would be able, together with the Jews returning from Babylon after seventy years, to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel. And, in fact, for a while it seemed as if the handful of Jews who remained in the Land were recovering from the Destruction, and working their fields and vineyards. Yet the King of Moab who wished to remove the remnant of the Nation of Israel from its land, sent Ishmael son of Netanyah to murder Gedaliah son of Ahikam. Ishmael son of Netanyah also had a personal interest in carrying out his plan, for he was of a royal family of Judah, and believed that he himself deserved the privilege of ruling over Judah rather than Gedaliah son of Ahikam. A number of the soldiers who were with Gedaliah son of Ahikam warned him concerning Ishmael son of Netanyah, and even suggested that he kill Ishmael before he carry out his plans, yet Gedaliah son of Ahikam didn't believe them and accused them of spreading lies about Ishmael. "And so it was that in the seventh month Ishmael son of Netanyah son of Elishama of the royal seed, and some of the chief officers of the king, and ten men with him, came to Gedaliah son of Ahikam to Mitzpah, and they ate bread together there in Mitzpah. Then Ishmael son of Netanyah and the ten men who were with him arose, and they struck Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shafan with the sword, killing him...and all of the men of Judah who were with him...and the Kasdim that were found there." And with this the last burning coal of Israeli rule in the Land was extinguished, and the exile reached full measure, and therefore the prophets instituted a fast day.

There is, though, some doubt as to when exactly the murder of Gedaliah took place. In the Talmud it is said that he died on the third of Tishrei, yet there are, among the later rabbis, those who explain that he was killed on the first of Tishrei, and that because of Rosh Hashanah the fast was delayed until the third of Tishrei.
Concerning the Fast of Gedaliah the Sages said that one may learn from it that the death of the righteous is equal to the burning of the Temple of God.


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