Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

On Thursday we commemorated The Tenth of Tevet which marks Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem 2,500 years ago. What is the message for us today?

In Jewish consciousness, a fast day is a time of reckoning, a time to correct a previous mistake. What happened on the Tenth of Tevet that we have to correct?


On the Tenth of Tevet, 2,500 years ago, Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem. Actually, there was little damage on that first day and no Jews were killed. So why is this day so tragic? Because the siege was a message, to get the Jewish people to wake up and fix their problems. They failed, and the siege led to the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple.

The Tenth of Tevet is one of the four fast days that commemorate dark times in Jewish history. The others are Tisha B’Av (the day of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem), the 17th of Tammuz (the day of the breaching of the defensive wall of Jerusalem by Titus and the Roman legions in 70 CE), and the third of Tishrei (the day that marks the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed Jewish governor of Judah, Gedaliah ben Achikam. He was actually killed on Rosh Hashanah but the fast day was advanced to the day after Rosh Hashanah because of the holiday).

The Tenth of Tevet is viewed as such a severe and important fast day that it is observed even if it falls on a Friday (erev Shabbat), while our other fast days are so arranged by calendar adjustments as to never fall on a Friday, so as not to interfere with Shabbat preparations.

The chief rabbinate of Israel chose to observe the Tenth of Tevet as a general kaddish day” (yom hakaddish ha’klalli) to allow the relatives of victims of the Holocaust, and whose yahrzeits is unknown, to observe the traditional yahrzeit practices for the deceased, including lighting a memorial candle, learning mishnayot and reciting the kaddish. According to the policy of the chief rabbinate in Israel, the memorial prayer is also recited in synagogues, after the reading of the Torah at the morning services.

The Tenth of Teves commemorates the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, the first stage in the sequence of events which led to the destruction of the city. The events that followed, the breaching of the city’s walls during the month of Tammuz, and the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash on Tisha B’Av, could not have taken place had the city not been besieged.

The first stage of any process contains the potential for all its subsequent stages. The tragic nature of the events commemorated by the other fasts may exceed that of the Tenth of Teves, but since the siege of Jerusalem initiated the sequence of events leading to the city’s destruction, the Tenth of Teves is marked by greater severity.

All events, even those which appear to be tragic, have holy roots. Seen from this perspective, a calamity like the siege of Jerusalem indicates that the intense divine energy invested was intended to produce a positive result. However, because of a deficiency in their service of G‑d, the Jewish people failed to take advantage of this opportunity, and this brought about the ensuing tragedy. This concept is alluded to in the Hebrew words of the biblical verse cited above, samach melech Bavel (“the King of Babylon laid siege”). The Hebrew verb samach usually means “support,” and has a positive connotation. This may be understood as an indication that the siege of Jerusalem could have led to a positive outcome.

The possibility for such an outcome may be seen from an earlier siege of Jerusalem. The siege laid by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was even more severe than that of Nebuchadnezzar. Faced with impending disaster, King Chizkiyahu prayed to G‑d with sincere teshuvah. His prayer brought about a miraculous victory, in which the danger was averted in a single night. Moreover, this victory had spiritual implications: “G‑d desired to make Chizkiyahu Mashiach.” G‑d’s intention in allowing Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem to take place was to awaken the people spiritually. This would have created “support” for the city, strengthening it against its foes, and hastening the coming of the Redemption.

The positive intention at the heart of these national calamities is reflected in our commemoration of them. The purpose of the commemorative fasts is not fasting per se, but rather the repentance of the Jewish people. Ultimately, this positive intention will be brought forth in the era of the full Redemption, when, as Rambam writes, “All these [commemorative] fasts will be nullified. They will be transformed into holidays and days of rejoicing and celebration.”

As a prooftext, Rambam cites the prophecy: “Thus declares the Lord of Hosts, ‘The fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth [month], the fast of the seventh [month] and the fast of the tenth [month] will be [times of] happiness and celebration and festivals for the House of Judah. Love truth and peace!’”

By including the admonition, “Love truth and peace!”, Rambam points out the approach necessary to precipitate the transformation of the fasts into days of celebration. Our sages explain that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of our people came about because of unwarranted hatred. Displaying unrestrained love for our fellow man, spreading “truth and peace,” will erase the reason for the exile, and then the exile itself will come to an end.

This concept is particularly relevant to the Tenth of Teves, and indeed is reflected in the events commemorated by that day. For as the result of a siege, all the inhabitants of a city are prevented from going about their personal business, and are joined together as a single collective entity.

Since, as stated above, the fast of the Tenth of Teves commemorates the beginning of the process of Jerusalem’s destruction, its impact is of broader scope than is the impact of the other commemorative fasts. Accordingly, the teshuvah which its commemoration spurs is particularly potent in hastening the coming of the full Redemption. This will initiate an era when “Jerusalem will be settled like an open city, because of the multitude of people and cattle it contains…and I…will be a wall of fire around her.” May this take place in our days.

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