“Do we really feel the sorrow we are showing? Do our sighs honestly come from our hearts? Does all this grief truly rise from the very depths of our souls?”
Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, poses these piercing questions at the beginning of one of his essays on the fast day of the Tenth of Teves, which Klal Yisrael will observe on Thursday, and his queries are just as relevant today as when he wrote them a century and a half ago.
Harav Hirsch points out that when the Navi calls upon us to “set yourself memorials, establish for yourself bitter lamentations” (Yirmiyahu 31:20), he did not assume that the grief for the past which was buried with Yerushalayim, and the longing for the future that will rise for us anew only with the rebirth of Yerushalayim, would not remain. He knew that no contemporary era could estrange us from these emotions, and that we would always be inspired by the words in Tehillim (137:5), “If I forget you, O Yerushalayim, may my right hand forget.”
But when these fast days were enacted, it was also expected that these emotions would not always remain totally alive and present for our conscience. For why would we otherwise need memorials, if there were no danger of forgetting?
Clearly, these days of public mourning “are intended to reawaken grief that is still within us but that has become dormant, and to strengthen, nurture and interpret these sentiments for us. But they also intend to reach those individuals whom life has robbed of these feelings and alienated from this mentality, and to lead them back to the attitudes and the frame of mind in which our sorrow is rooted,” writes Harav Hirsch.
The more the glitter of the present day eclipses the memory of the light of the Beis Hamikdash, the more the material stresses of our century darken the awareness of the true foundation and purpose of our lives, the more the sons of the modern era consider to merge their own aspirations with those of the other nations and to melt into the masses of the rest of mankind, the greater will be our need for fast days in which to mourn the destruction of Tzion and Yerushalayim, he adds.
This winter taanis reminds us that mourning for the Beis Hamikdash isn’t a seasonal affair, relegated to three weeks in the summer. Instead, the longing for what we have lost must be constantly in our hearts, a desperate plea for the Geulah continuously on our lips. Let us use these hours of fasting to reawaken our true emotions and reignite the dormant yearning that lies beyond the surface of our hearts.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this is the shortest fast of the year. Yet despite its relative brevity, its importance must not be underestimated.
The Abudraham teaches that, were Asarah B’Teves to fall on Shabbos, it would have the same status as Yom Kippur in that Klal Yisrael would be required to fast.
In contrast, Tishah B’Av, which falls fairly frequently on a Shabbos, is always postponed to Sunday.
At first glance this seems puzzling. On Asarah B’Teves, Nevuchadnetzar, the Babylonian emperor, began the siege of Yerushalayim. It was on Tishah B’Av that the Beis Hamikdash was actually destroyed. One would have thought that if one doesn’t fast on Tishah B’Av that falls on Shabbos, one certainly doesn’t fast on Asarah B’Teves.
The Chasam Sofer gives a very powerful explanation:
The halachah is that one doesn’t fast on Shabbos about something that happened in the past, such as fasting on the yahrtzeit of a parent. One is permitted, however, to fast on Shabbos about a bad dream that warns about a gezeirah in the future, for in such a case the oneg of abolishing the decree against the person through fasting supersedes the oneg of eating.
When Nevuchadnetzer laid siege to Yerushalayim on the Tenth of Teves, the Beis Din shel Maalah also sat and decided whether the Beis Hamikdash should be destroyed.
Chazal teach us that in every generation in which the Beis Hamikdash is not rebuilt, it is considered as if it was destroyed.
Each year on this day, the Beis Din shel Maalah judges whether the Beis Hamikdash should be rebuilt or, R”l, “destroyed” again.
Therefore, this fast isn’t about the past but about the future, and even on Shabbos we would be required to fast.
May the Ribbono shel Olam listen to our tefillos, and may we merit the Geulah speedily in our days.