Chazal instituted this fast to bring to our attention how unfortunate it is to live a life of exteriority, without an understanding that there is a plan and purpose and inner meaning to everything. It is not by chance that this ta’anis comes immediately after Chanukah, as the Midrash (Breishis 2:4) tells us that the Greek exile was a state of “darkness.” This is because the Greeks lived by the ideology “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.” What greater darkness can there be than not realizing that there is a Creator who made this world for a purpose? And this mistake continues until this very day in the Western Culture, which is governed by the dictates of science. Even those who practice some sort of religion do so mostly to remove that feeling of emptiness from their lives, not because they feel that there is purpose to their existence in this world. Such service will usually not be done with any true emotion.
Unfortunately, this problem has spread to our circles as well. We must make sure that our Torah and mitzvos are not mitzvos anashim melumadah, done without feeling and emotions. This is what we mourn on this ta’anis and need to fix.
Two Types Of Shabbos
Let us return to Shabbos. Perhaps the reason why we would fast on Shabbos is because this problem even affects the way we keep Shabbos. A person can go through the motions of keeping Shabbos and still miss the boat! For example, there are two people filling themselves with the tastiest foods on Shabbos. Even though both enjoy themselves immensely, they are not doing the same thing. You see, one has in mind that his actions be to honor Shabbos, and is, therefore, doing the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos. However, the second one is just interested in his own pleasures, and has fallen into the trap of overindulgence of worldly pleasures.
Shabbos can be “a day with Hashem” or it can be a day of prohibitions. In order to experience Shabbos properly we must not only focus on the outward motion of a mitzvah, but also on its pnimiyus, its very being and soul.
In this aspect, Asarah B’Teves is different from all other fasts. Even though on Tisha B’Av we mourn a much greater tragedy, Shabbos, which is a preview of the next world where there is no sorrow, overrides all mourning. However, on this fast we address the ailment of exteriority, which, if not taken care of properly, will destroy the entire essence of Shabbos, causing it to be a day like any other. Therefore, we fast even on Shabbos, because if we haven’t addressed the issue of doing mitzvos in an empty manner, our Shabbos itself will also be lacking.
We are just one week after Chanukah, the time when we received an injection of rejuvenation for our avodas Hashem. Let us start with this Shabbos, which began with the conclusion of the fast of Asarah B’Teves, and pump some fresh “pnimiyus” into this day. For example, Friday night, on the way home from shul, let us try to think about the special guest of Shabbos, i.e., Hashem, Who has just arrived. This will help us put some extra life into kiddush and our seudah, and perhaps after doing this for a while we will merit moments of truly feeling Hashem’s presence! The main thing is to take that first step – whatever it may be – towards putting more meaning into our Shabbos!
About the Author: Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus, raised and educated in Los Angeles and subsequently Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aron Yaakov Kollel in Kiryat Sefer , Israel. He lectures for the public and is the director of the Chasdei Rivka Free Loan Gemach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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