The month of Tevet was visited by three tragedies that occurred to the Jewish people. On the eighth day the Torah was translated into Greek. On the ninth day Ezra, the Scribe, died. And, on the tenth day the siege of Jerusalem began. It would have been appropriate to establish a fast on all three days, but, since this was not possible, the Sages established the fast on the tenth day alone.
In the selichot for the Tenth of Tevet we say, “On the ninth, I was denounced with reproach and shame; my robe of majesty and diadem were stripped off, and the giver of goodly words, Ezra, the Scribe, was forcibly torn away.” Why did our Sages see fit to institute a fast day and to commemorate for all generations the death of Ezra?
There is no doubt that Ezra was one of the spiritual giants of the Jewish nation. He was the facilitator of the return of the Jewish people during the Second Temple to their “Father in Heaven”, established a new covenant between Israel and the Almighty, and removed all of the foreign women from among them. The Sages said that if the Torah had not been given through Moshe Rabeinu, it would have been befitting for it to be given through Ezra, HaSofer!
All this is still insufficient to mitigate our bewilderment! We have never found such an ado for any of the other giants of our nation! Not for Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, or Moshe Rabeinu! More than this, the Torah did not even tell us the date of their deaths (except for Aharon HaCohen). Even though the date of the death of Moshe is known to us through the Mesorah (Tradition of the Oral Law), it was not written explicitly in the Torah! If so, the question remains, what is the uniqueness of the death of Ezra?
The answer to this lies in one critical piece of information. Our Sages taught us that the prophet Malachi is Ezra, the Scribe. According to this, Ezra was the last of the prophets the Jewish people ever witnessed, and his death marked the end of the prophetic period.
This provides us with a simple and lucid answer. The Fast of Gedalia, according to pshat (the simple approach), is not just for a great man who was murdered. Proof of this lies in the fact that we do not find a fast day for the death of Yoshiahu HaMelech who was killed in the battle of Megiddo. It is evident that the Fast of Gedalia was instituted for the new chapter in the destruction of the Temple and the further Exile of the Jewish people. For, with the death of Gedalia, the remnant of the people in Israel fled to Egypt and there was no Jew in the land for fifty-two years! (That which we find in Rosh HaShana 18b, “The death of the righteous is comparable to the burning of the Temple” is by way of drash.)
The mourning associated with the death of Ezra HaSofer is not merely a national mourning for the loss of a great leader. Rather, it is a collective anguish for the end of an incredible epoch of one thousand years (exactly) of prophecy. This period began with the Exodus from Egypt and concluded with the passing of Ezra, forty years after the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
We all pray that prophecy will return soon as the Rambam writes in the last chapter of the Mishne Torah, “It appears from the simple reading of the words of the prophets that in the beginning of the Messianic period the war of Gog and Magog will happen, and, that before this war begins, a prophet will arise to edify the Jewish people and make ready their heart.”
May it be the Almighty´s will that we should see the realization of Zecharia´s prophecy (8:19), “So said the Lord of Hosts, ´The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth will be to the House of Yehuda for rejoicing, happiness, and festive occasions; and you shall love truth and peace.´”