When hard times befall the Jewish people such as, G-d forbid, drought, warfare, or plague, we must realize that they are not a coincidence - rather they are a Divine warning to klal Yisroel to do tshuvah. When these difficulties occur, we are obligated to set aside special days to fast and repent. Acting as if the calamities are coincidental rather than warnings from Hashem is cruel to ourselves and results in greater catastrophe. On the other hand, instituting fast days as a means of doing tshuvah fulfills a mitzvah of the Torah (Rambam, Hilchos Tshuvah 1:1-3).
An extension of this mitzvah is the observance of five days every year that were instituted as annual fast days. Four of these days commemorate events related to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, whereas the fifth, Taanis Esther, commemorates the fast days that were observed when the Jews collectively repented prior to the Purim miracle. The primary purpose of these fast days and all others is to do tshuvah (see Rambam, Hilchos Tshuvah 5:1-5).
In the early days of the Tannayim (in the days of the Second Beis HaMikdash, at the time of Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai), a book entitled Megillas Taanis was written that listed the days of celebration and mourning observed at that time (Gemara Shabbos 13b with Rashi). According to Megillas Taanis, three consecutive days of Teves - the Eighth, the Ninth, and the Tenth - were observed as days of mourning. Indeed, Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim Chapter 580) rule that it is appropriate to fast because of the tragic events that happened on these days. Although this is not the common practice, one should nevertheless focus on doing tshuvah during these three days. WHAT HAPPENED ON THE EIGHTH OF TEVES?
On the eighth of Teves the Torah was translated for the first time into Greek. According to Megillas Taanis, "the world was plunged into darkness for three days." Chazal explain that this event was as harmful for the Jews as the making of the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf (see Maseches Sofrim 1:7).
Ptolemy, the king of the Hellenized (Greek-cultured) Egyptian empire gathered seventy-two Gedolei Yisroel and placed each one of them in a separate building without revealing to them his plans. Once each was in total seclusion, he commanded them to translate the entire Torah into Greek. (This is why this translation is called the Targum HaShivim, in English the "Septuagint," because approximately seventy Talmidei Chachomim performed the translation.)
In the course of the project, Hashem made a tremendous miracle -- each scholar translated the entire Torah
identically (Gemara Megillah 9a). To appreciate the extent of this miracle, try the following experiment. Ask two people to translate the same pasuk and see how different the two versions come out. (Even two prophets who see the same prophetic vision describe it differently, see Gemara Sanhedrin 89a.) Multiply this experiment by the thousands of psukim in Chumash and take into account that seventy-two different people were each making their own translation, and you’ll realize that the results were truly miraculous.
Not only was there no variation in the translation, which is itself beyond imagination, but an even greater miracle occurred. All seventy-two scholars realized that there were parts of the Torah that could not be rendered literally because Ptolemy might misunderstand the literal translation. For example, literally translating "Bereishis Bara Elokim," may have been misunderstood to mean that some entity called "Bereishis," chas veshalom, created Hashem. To prevent this, they all translated "Hashem created the beginning." In this instance and in twelve other places, all seventy-two Talmidei Chachomim realized that they must alter the translation -- and they all made the exact same modification. Considering the potential disaster that may have resulted if even one Talmud Chachom translated these passages literally while the others altered it, makes the miracle even greater.
In one instance, they altered the translation to avoid provoking Ptolemy’s anger. Ptolemy’s wife’s name was the Greek translation of "arneves," hare. The Talmidei Chachomim translating the Torah were concerned that Ptolemy might not appreciate that his wife’s name is that of a non-kosher species, so they substituted a description for the hare rather than naming it (see Maharsha to Megillah 9a). (In truth, describing Ptolemy’s wife as an arneves was not a coincidence. According to the Midrash, the four non-kosher species mentioned in the Torah allude to the four kingdoms that subjugated the Jewish people, and arneves corresponds to Greece (Maharsha). THREE DAYS OF DARKNESS?
Why did this translation plunge the world into three days of darkness? On the contrary, wasn’t it a tremendous Kiddush Hashem, particularly taking into account the miracles that occurred! Surely such miracles deserved the institution of a Yom Tov and not a national day of mourning! Furthermore, why is this event compared to the day when the Eigel was made?
Before the Torah was translated, any gentile interested in true morality had only one address. He had to go to the Jewish people and join their ranks. There was simply no other address in the world for a person to learn the basis of true morality. But once the Torah was translated, a non-Jew could feel that he understood morality without learning it from the Jewish mesorah. This resulted in utter tragedy, as we see in today’s world where the non-Jews follow their warped interpretations of right and wrong with no inkling of how distant they are from morality. This can indeed be compared to the day when the Eigel was created. In an attempt to find a substitute for true Torah and leadership, klal Yisroel mistakenly placed its belief in something absolutely unsubstantial.
Similarly, the Torah’s translation provided people with a mistaken interpretation of true morality. One look at today’s headlines is enough to appreciate into what darkness the world was plunged as a result. THE NINTH OF TEVES
The Ninth of Teves is the yahrzeit of Ezra, who was the Gadol Hador at the beginning of the Second Beis HaMikdash. When Ezra arrived in Eretz Yisroel from Bavel, he found that the Jewish community was extremely lax in many major areas of halachic observance. Ezra improved the spiritual state of the Jewish people tremendously and established many halachic Takanos, all of which apply until this day. With his passing, the Jewish community lost a major positive force. With time, the community in Eretz Yisroel fell from the great spiritual heights achieved in his day. For this reason, the day of his passing was established as a day of mourning.
It should be noted that yahrzeits, whether of private individuals or those in memory of great Tzaddikim, should be observed as days of mourning. Megillas Taanis notes the exact yahrzeits of several Neviim, including Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon HaCohen, Miriam, Yehoshua bin Nun, and Shmuel HaNavi, so that people should observe them as voluntary fast days and universal days of tshuvah. Rashi (Yevamos 122a) mentions that a tzaddik’s yahrzeit should be observed by gathering together to learn Torah in his honor. (This is the origin of the minhag of a "Yahrzeit Shiur" and also of the Chassidishe minhag of having a "yahrzeit tish" whose purpose is to teach Torah.). Similarly, Ezra’s yahrzeit was designated as a day of tshuvah and a voluntary fast day.
Because a yahrzeit is a day of reflection and tshuvah, it includes certain halachos of mourning (Rama, Yoreh Deah 391:3 and 402:12). For example, it is a mitzvah to fast on the yahrzeit of a parent (Gemara Nedarim 12a; Rama, Yoreh Deah 376:5 & 402:12; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 568:7; cf. Gra YD 376:7). (Someone fasting on his yahrzeit should recite Aneinu in the quiet Shmoneh Esrei, but not in the repetition since it is not a public fast, see Kaf HaChayim 565:5.) Although this fast begins only at daybreak, festive meals should be avoided the night before. Therefore, one is not permitted to eat at a wedding during the night (Rama 391:3; Taz Shach 395:3; cf. Levush). It appears that one may also not eat at a Sheva Berachos. However, it is permitted to eat at a Bris, Pidyon Haben or Siyum (Pischei Tshuvah 391:8). It would appear that one may attend a wedding or sheva brachos provided one does not eat there. THE TENTH OF TEVES
We fast on the Tenth of Teves because on this day the siege started that culminated in the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. All healthy people should fast on this day. SOMEONE ILL
A sick person is not only exempt from fasting, but is forbidden to fast, even if his illness is not life threatening (Shulchan Aruch 554:6; Mishneh Berurah 550:4). PREGNANT WOMEN AND NURSING MOTHERS
There is a three-sided dispute among the Rishonim whether a pregnant woman is required to fast on Asarah B’Teves. (The same halachos apply to Tzom Gedalyah and Shiva Asar B’Tamuz. Taanis Esther is treated more leniently.) Maharam rules that a pregnant woman must fast unless she is suffering, in which case she is considered ill. Rabbeinu Tam rules that a pregnant woman may fast but is not obligated to do so. In his opinion when the fast was established, pregnant women were not included, but they may fast if they wish to share with the suffering of the community. Rabbeinu Yerucham rules that pregnant women are not permitted to fast on these fast days because this makes the fetus suffer (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 554). In his opinion, even if they want to fast and feel physically up to it, they are forbidden to do so because this causes discomfort to the fetus that is exempt from fasting and is considered to be a choleh (ill).
Shulchan Aruch (554:5) rules that pregnant women and nursing mothers do not have to fast, suggesting that he rules like Rabbeinu Tam that they may fast if they wish (and are up to it). Similarly, the Rama concludes that although they are not required to fast, the custom is that they do unless they are very uncomfortable (550:1; 554:6). Some contemporary poskim rule that pregnant women should not fast because in our times there is a great chance of endangering the baby (Shu"t Even Yisroel 9:61). The accepted practice nowadays is that pregnant women and nursing mothers do not fast. CHILDREN
Contrary to popular assumption, there is no mitzvah of chinuch (training to observe mitzvos) concerning fasts like Asarah B’Teves. Thus, there is no requirement whatsoever for boys aged twelve and girls aged eleven to fast even for a few hours, and there is certainly no such requirement for younger children (Mishneh Berurah 550:5). However, they should not be given treats. CHOSSON AND KALLAH
Do a chosson and kallah fast on Asarah B’Teves (or on other fast days) that fall during their week of sheva brachos? One might think that they should not fast since the sheva brachos week is considered the chosson and kallah’s private Yom Tov, and that is why they eat festive meals and are forbidden to work, and do not recite Tachanun etc. It certainly seems inappropriate to observe a fast day at such a time.
But on the other hand, how can they not participate in a fast day that all of klal Yisroel is observing?
The Ritva (end of Mesechta Taanis) discusses this issue and rules that the chosson and kallah must fast, citing two reasons why. First, he explains that the fast is a public observance while their Yom Tov is private, and therefore the public fast day supersedes their private observance. In addition, he cites an additional reason, that the pasuk states, "Im lo a’aleh Yerushalayim al rosh simchasi," "Were I not to elevate Yerushalayim above my joyous occasions," (Tehillim 137:6). This teaches that we must place the mourning for the churban above our own personal joys. Therefore, if the chosson and kallah celebrate sheva brachos at the expense of observing the mourning of Asarah B’Teves it would violate the pasuk’s message.
It should be noted that there is a halachic difference between the two reasons. According to the first reason, a chosson and kallah who marry the week before Purim must fast on Taanis Esther since it is a public fast, whereas according to the second reason they would not have to fast since Taanis Esther does not commemorate the churban.
It should be noted that some poskim rule that the chosson and kallah do not have to fast on Taanis Esther (Shu"t Yechaveh Daas 2:78). However, other poskim cite only the first reason of the Ritva, implying that a chosson and kallah must fast on Taanis Esther (Biyur Halacha 549:1). WEDDINGS ON ASARAH B’TEVES
May one schedule a wedding or other festive event for the night of Asarah B’Teves, since the fast only begins in the morning? Some poskim prohibit this since the entire day is a day of mourning (see Shu"t Chaim She’ol #24; also see Eliyahu Rabbah, Pri Megadim, and Biyur Halacha to 551:2). However other poskim are lenient, at least under extenuating circumstances (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:168). THE TEFILLOS OF ASARAH B’TEVES -- WHEN DOES ONE RECITE ANEINU?
There is a difference between Ashkenazim and Sefardim. Sefardim recite Aneinu in all the prayers of a fast day, even the Maariv of the night before. Ashkenazim recite Aneinu only at Mincha, except the Chazon who recites Aneinu in the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei in Shacharis (but not in his private prayer).
In Ashkenazic practice, only someone who is fasting recites Aneinu (Maamar Mordechai and Biyur Halacha 565:1). Among the Sefardic poskim, this issue is disputed. FORGOT ANEINU
If someone forgot Aneinu in Shmoneh Esrei, what does he do?
If he is still in the middle of Shma Koleinu, he should recite Aneinu, then "Ki atah shomeah" and complete the bracha. If he has completed the bracha, he does not repeat any part of the tefillah. Instead, he recites Aneinu at the end of Shmoneh Esrei as part of "Elokai Netzor", preferably before saying the pasuk "Yihyu l’ratzon" (Mishnah Berurah 565:6,7; Kaf HaChayim 565:3). AVINU MALKEINU OR TACHANUN?
After the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei on Asarah B’Teves, Aveinu Malkeinu is recited followed by Tachanun. If someone finished Shmoneh Esrei after the congregation and the tzibur is ready to begin Tachanun, should he say Tachanun with the tzibur and recite Avinu Malkeinu later, or recite Avinu Malkeinu first?
He should recite Tachanun with the tzibur and then recite Avinu Malkeinu because there is great importance in reciting Tachanun together with the tzibur, as I explained in a different article. GIVING AN ALIYAH TO SOMEONE WHO IS NOT FASTING
On Asarah B’Teves and the other public fast days we take out the Sefer Torah and read "VaYechal" (in Parshas Ki Sisa) both in Shacharis and Mincha.
There is an accepted custom that we do not call up someone who is not fasting to the Torah on a fast day (Shu"t Maharik #9), even someone who has medical reasons that require him to eat. WHAT HAPPENS IF THE ONLY COHEN IN SHUL IS NOT FASTING?
In order to establish peace and harmony in the Jewish community, the first aliyah to the Torah is always given to a cohen (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 135:4). Nevertheless, if none of the cohanim in shul are fasting, the custom is to give the aliyah to a non-cohen who is fasting. The cohanim leave the shul to allow a non-cohen to be called up in their stead (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 566:6). Shu"t Maharik (#9), the source of this ruling, explains that the minhag to give aliyos only to people who are fasting overrides the halacha of giving the first aliyah to the cohen.
The pasuk promises us that the "Fast of the Fourth (month, the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the fourth month counting from Nissan), the Fast of the Fifth (Tisha B’Av), the Fast of the Seventh (Tzom Gedalyah) and the Fast of the Tenth (Asara B’Teves) shall be for celebration and happiness for the household of Yehudah" (Zecharyah 8:19). May we use the fast days and other days of mourning for reflection and tshuvah so that the words of the prophet are fulfilled speedily and in our days!
This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site