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The Fast of the 10th of Tevet


Tomorrow morning (12/22) we will be observing a dawn to dusk fast known as the 10th of Tevet. The fast begins at 5:57am and concludes at 5:31pm. 

Interestingly, if the 10th of Tevet would fall on Shabbat, we would fast then too - just like we do when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat!  What is the reason that the 10th of Tevet is given such importance? 

The 10th of Tevet commemorates the day the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem before the destruction of the first Temple. Consequently, the Jewish people became subjugated to a foreign power and therefore were no longer subservient to G-d alone. 

In allowing this subjugation to occur, G-d demonstrated that His relationship with the Jewish people had been downgraded. At that point in history, the destruction of the Temple was not a foregone conclusion. It took the Babylonians almost three years to finally conquer the city and destroy the Temple. If the people of Jerusalem had taken to heart the message implicit in the siege and worked to restore their relationship with the Almighty, the Babylonians would never have succeeded in penetrating the city and destroying the Temple. 

The 10th of Tevet was meant to be a wakeup call for the Jewish people, but instead of getting up, they pushed the snooze button. The tragedy of the 10th of Tevet lay in the failure of the Jewish people to appreciate the importance of their direct relationship with G-d and allow a foreign power to dominate them both physically and spiritually.

There is an interesting difference between the 10th of Tevet and the other fast days that relate to the destruction of the Temple (17 Tammuz, 9 Av & 3 Tishri). All the other fast days represent the beginning of a process that leads to greater disaster. For example, the Temple was set on fire on the 9th of Av but only collapsed on the 10th. The 10th of Tevet, however, is the only day where the totality of the tragedy happened on that day: the siege, which represents subjugation to a foreign power; a downgrade in the relationship with G-d; and a lack of a proper response by the Jewish people. This is the reason why the observance of the other fast days is flexible whereas the 10th of Tevet is not. Meaning, if they fall on Friday or Shabbat, they are observed on either Thursday or Sunday.

In addition, the prophet Yechezkel uses the same terminology regarding the 10th of Tevet - “b’etzem hayom hazeh” (“on this very day”) - as the Torah uses for Yom Kippur. Thus, as it is with Yom Kippur, if the 10th of Tevet were to fall on Shabbat – we’d fast. 

The purpose of fasting is not to commemorate an ancient event, one that is irrelevant to our lives, but rather to use history as a springboard to reflect on the present. We need to ask ourselves if we are any different than our ancestors. What is the nature of our relationship with G-d? Where are we spiritually? By abstaining from eating and drinking, we prove to ourselves that we have the strength to control even our most basic needs for the sake of the greater good. That being the case, what type of changes do we need to make in our lives if we are to upgrade our connection with G-d?