The day -- a minor fast -- begins tomorrow at sunrise, and I'm going to be completely honest and say that I'm glad the days are short this season. I've never complained or moaned or groaned about the fasts. I take them quietly, focusing on the day. But fasts were always hard during school because I was up at 8 a.m. and functioning well through sundown. But now, now in this winter of discontent (let me be ridiculous!), I'm a copy editor who sleeps till 1 p.m. and works from sunset into the evening hours. This means, of course, that like all smart folks, I'll be sleeping through a great deal of the fast, waking only long enough to suffer grumbles and torment for a few choice hours amid a bus ride and walk. But enough about me.
Asarah b'Tevet remembers the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (pointedly Nebuchadnezzar) and the events leading up to the destruction of the First Temple (that's Solomon's) in 586 B.CE.
“And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month (Tevet), in the tenth day of the month (Asarah B’Tevet), that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it; and they built forts against it round about. And the city was besieged...” (2 Kings 25:1-2)The day is connected to several other fast days throughout the timeline of the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile, including the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av. Some consider the day a day to remember those murdered in the Holocaust. Many consider the day to be one of repentence and a call for return to Torah and Talmud.
According to Yanki Tauber, the Talmud describes how, instead of uniting against the common enemy, Jewish factions battled each other in besieged Jerusalem. "Because of baseless hatred between Jews," concludes the Talmud, "was Jerusalem destroyed." How is the situation different today? Questions of "Who is a Jew?" and the battle of Jew vs. Jew. Orthodox and Conservative and Reform and Reconstructionist and secular. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in questioning the focus on "baseless hate," says that, despite pragmatic and ideological differences, no reason is reason enough for hate.
Says Tauber: "For if there is one redeeming virtue in being under siege, it is the opportunity to realize that we're all in this together."
Think on that tomorrow, whether you decide to fast.
(Also, an interesting tidbit for those of you familiar with Shabettai Zvi, one of my favorite infamous Jewish history characters: One of his first completely outlandish acts as the "messiah" was to change Asarah b'Tevet to a day of feasting and joviality. Needless to say, chaos ensued.)