Message for Today
The Siege on Jerusalem – Then and Now
by HaRav Dov Begon, Head of Machon Meir
In the Jewish month of Tevet three calamities visited the Jewish People. On the 8th of Tevet, the Torah was translated to Greek following a decree of King Ptolemy, and darkness befell the world – the Torah could not possibly be translated fully. On the 9th of Tevet, Ezra the Scribe and Nechemiah ben Chacaliah who brought Israel up out of Babylonia both died. When they died, the Jewish People of that generation were distraught. On the 10th of Tevet Nebuchadnezzar placed a siege on Jerusalem for three years, after which the walls of Jerusalem were breeched on the 17th of Tammuz. Regarding the first two, only individuals fast, but for the siege that was placed on Jerusalem, all of Israel hold a communal fast [the Tenth of Tevet]. (Book of our Heritage, Rabbi Eliyahu Ki Tov).
In our generation, following the terrible Holocaust in which millions of Jews were murdered, it is customary to recite the Mourners’ Kaddish on the Tenth of Tevet for those murdered Jews whose date of death remains unknown.
Today, we fast and are sorrowful over the calamities that befell Israel in the past so that we can arouse our hearts to seek out pathways to repentance. By recalling these events, we can return to the path of goodness. This, indeed, is the essence of fast days – to learn a lesson from the past and to improve our deeds in the present (see Orach Chaim 549:1, Mishnah Berurah). In our generation, we need to rectify three areas in which we sinned in the past:
- Torah Learning: Torah learned in a “Hellenistic” or “scientific” manner, without the fear of G-d and without faith, does not illuminate the soul of those learning it. Our holy Torah constitutes light, as it says, “For mitzvoth are a candle, and Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). We must restore ALL Jewish children to reverent Torah study, the sort engaged in by our ancestors. Then, the Torah’s light and joy will benefit our entire nation, and the entire world. And a large focus of our learning must be the Torah which speaks to the generation of rebirth as we return to our Land, as our Sages state: “There is no Torah like Torat Eretz Yisrael.”
- Ezra and Nechemiah were the leaders who brought Israel out of the Babylonian exile to establish the Second Temple. When they died, the Jewish People were like sheep without a shepherd. Today, we have a great need of leaders like Ezra and Nechemiah, who can strengthen the nation’s spirit and unite them. We need leaders who with their great faith can bring light to Israel and can arouse them to return to their roots. By such means, all Israel will come to recognize what we are as a nation, how we are special, and what is Israel’s role in general, and particularly regarding Eretz Yisrael.
- The Siege on Jerusalem: Just as in the past Nebuchadnezzar placed a siege on Jerusalem, today, as well, the Arabs and the nations of the world are all sharpening their fangs, gazing covetously on the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, the heart of our nation and the heart of the world, with the goal of extinguishing the light of the universe. We must quash their attacks and their pressures by strengthening settlement throughout the country and by rebuilding Jerusalem and increasing its population. We must proclaim in a loud voice, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning” (Psalm 137:5), and we must stand as one man, with one heart, against our enemies who are besieging Jerusalem. By strengthening and unifying ourselves, these days will be transformed to days of joy and gladness. We must first love truth and peace (Zechariah 8:19).