Receive weekly insights from the Chief Rabbi
Office of the Chief Rabbi

A Fast on a Friday? Asarah B’Tevet: Treating the root cause, not the symptoms.

The Chief Rabbi’s D’var Torah for Asarah b’Tevet and Parshat Vayigash

Transcript

This week shabbat will commence in a most unusual way. We’ll be fasting, and we’ll only be able to eat or drink after kiddush on Friday night. That’s because Friday will be Asarah b’Tevet – the Fast of Tevet.

You might wonder, why is this fast different from all other fasts? Our calendar does not usually allow fasts on Fridays, in order that we should be able to have the health and the energy to prepare for Shabbat. However, Asara b’Tevet is the one exception. That’s because, in the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 24, the day is described as ‘etzem hayom hazeh’ – ‘this very day,’ the identical terminology used by the Torah to describe Yom Kippur. So in the same way as Yom Kippur must take place on that very day, so too with Asara b’Tevet. If it falls on Friday, we must fast on Friday.

The Root of our Problems

This highlights for us the significance of this particular fast day. You see, Asarah b’Tevet was the very beginning of the troubles that followed. It was on this day that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. You might say, “What was so important about that? It pales into insignificance compared with the 17th of Tammuz when the walls of the city were breached and the 9th of Av when the temple was destroyed!”

Actually Asara B’tevet is significant because that’s when it all began. That was the root of our problems.

If a river is badly polluted, in order to clean up the waters, you could go downstream, but whatever you clean will last just a few hours. Instead, you should go upstream in order to block off the original source of the pollution. Instead of treating the symptoms, we need to treat the cause.

There is a story of the mythical town of Chelm in Poland in which there was just one little bridge over the valley. People noticed that there was a crack in the bridge, causing some people to trip and fall. The crack widened until some people were breaking their legs. It widened further and there was a danger that people might fall through it, and then when the gap became exceptionally wide, people, wagons and horses were falling down it to the valley below.

The council of the sages of Chelm decided to deliberate on the issue. At the end of an entire day’s discussions they announced their decision: They would build a hospital in the valley below.

Causeless Love

That’s what happens when you treat the symptoms instead of the cause. Ever since the destruction of our Second Temple within the diaspora we have experienced some wonderful highs and some very tragic lows. Let’s look back to the origin of it all – it was the sin of sinat chinam, of causeless hatred.

Now close to two millennia after that time, we have not yet repaired the original cause. Sadly today there is still so much damaging and unnecessary sinat chinam, causeless hatred, within our ranks.

Let us therefore heed the call of Asara b’Tevet – let us treat the original cause, and in the spirit of the teaching of Rav Kook, let us now engage in ‘ahavat chinam’, causeless love, for one another.

Shabbat shalom.

To receive weekly insights from the Chief Rabbi, subscribe using the form below.