The Seeds of Doom

The honor of Shabbat is very dear to the Jewish People and to greet the Shabbat Queen while fasting would be inappropriate. For this reason, when Hillel II fixed the Jewish calendar in the fourth century CE, he arranged that none of the Rabbinic fasts could ever fall on a Friday or Shabbat. However, he made one exception.

Which event in the Jewish calendar could be so important that it causes us to reduce the pleasure of Shabbat? Which day is so tragic that we break our fast with the Friday night kiddush wine?

You might think that it’s Tisha B’Av – the ninth of Av, the date of the destruction of both our Holy Temples and of so much other Jewish suffering. Or maybe, the seventeenth of Tammuz, when amongst other tragedies, Titus and the armies of Rome breached the walls of Jerusalem. Or maybe it’s the Fast of Gedalia, which we observe the day after Rosh Hashana: With the death of Gedalia ben Achikam, Jewish rule ceased over the Land of Israel for nearly 2000 years. But no, Hillel II fixed the calendar so that none of these dates ever fall on a Friday.

The only fast that can fall on a Friday is the Tenth of Tevet

Looking at the Tenth of Tevet, we would be hard pressed to discern why this fast is exceptional. On that day there was no battle, no massacre, nothing was burned. The event that the Tenth of Tevet commemorates is the surrounding of Jerusalem by the armies of the Babylonian king Nevuchadnetzar. What was so tragic about the surrounding of Yerushalyim?

Pick up a DVD. You’re holding a feature film in your hands. You can’t see the film but the film is there now.  It just has to be played.
Pick up an acorn.  You’re holding a mighty oak tree in your hands. The seed contains everything that the tree will ever be. Everything needed for the tree exists now in the seed. What follows afterwards is no more than the dénouement of a reality that already exists. It’s not that the seed holds the potential for the tree to grow, but that the tree is really here now.

It is for this reason that the Tenth of Tevet is such a tragic day, a day that is allowed to infringe on the pleasure of Shabbat itself.

Although the Tenth of Tevet was only the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, in reality, it was as though the two Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples), and the other disasters contained in that seed, had already happened - what followed was merely the playing out of a scenario that was already a fully-fledged tragedy.

Posted in: Jewish Holidays

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