Rabbi Yitzchak Neria
Former Rosh Kollel in Montreal
The navi Zechariah says:
“Thus said Hashem, Master of Legions, ‘the fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth [month], the fast of the seventh [month], and the fast of the tenth [month] shall be for the house of Yehuda for joy and for happiness and for good festivals.’” (Zechariah 8:19)
How are the months numerated, and which fasts are referred to in the pasuk? Nisan is the first month, and all the other months are counted from Nisan. Hence, the “fast of the fourth” is Shiva Asar B’Tamuz (17 Tamuz), because Tamuz is the fourth month starting from Nisan. Similarly, the “fast of the fifth” is Tisha B’Av; Av is the fifth month. And the “fast of the seventh” is Tzom Gedaliah (3 Tishrei), because Tishrei is the seventh month. Finally, the “fast of the tenth” is Asarah B’Tevet (10 Tevet), since Tevet is the tenth month starting from Nisan.
The Jewish people accepted these fasts upon themselves because of the terrible events of these dates. We will focus on the upcoming fast of Asarah B’Tevet. (Hopefully, by the time these words are published, the fast day will have been transformed into a festival and a day of happiness.)
The tana’im (BT Rosh Hashanah 18b) disagreed as to the reason for the “fast of the tenth.” (The fast’s date depends on thismachloket.) According to R’ Akiva, the fast occurs on 10 Tevet, because that was when the Babylonian king placed a siege around Yerushalayim. As it says in Sefer Yechezkel:
“Then the word of Hashem came to me in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, saying, ‘Son of man, write for yourself the name of the day, this very day; the king of Babylon has besieged Yerushalayim on this very day.’” (Yechezkel 24:1-2)
In contrast, R’ Shimon bar Yochai holds that the fast occurs on 5 Tevet, because on that day,
“The news came to the exile that the city had been sacked.”
The rishonim and achronim all ruled according to R’ Akiva, and there are two reasons why they did so. First of all, R’ Shimon bar Yochai was R’ Akiva’s disciple, and “halachah does not follow the student in place of the teacher” (Yalkut Yosef – Mo’adim, p. 529, comment 6).
But there is yet another explanation. R’ Akiva’s opinion reflects Chazal’s general approach of examining an occurrence’s roots rather than focusing on the event’s revelation. Tisha B’Av is another clear indication of this trend. Although the fire which consumed the Beit HaMikdash did not begin until the afternoon of 9 Av and mainly raged on 10 Av, we observe 9 Av as the date of the churban. We are thus taught that the beginning was the critical time. At that point, rectification was still possible. However, since we did not merit rectification, we mourn that lost opportunity.
This idea continues to serve as an important lesson for us: prevention is only an option during an event’s early stages. Once everything is revealed and in the open, it may be too late to apply the brakes.
Yet, we must also understand that the fast days are not merely memorials of the past; they serve as warning signs for the present, as well. Each generation that does not merit seeing the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash is considered to have suffered the destruction anew. Therefore, Asarah B’Tevet is more than just a distressing historic event. As long as these days have not yet been transformed into days of happiness, we must recall that we are obligated to do everything in our power to enable that long-anticipated transformation.