“The Essence of this Day”

The fast of the Tenth of Teves is marked by a halachic stringency greater than that of all the other commemorative fasts. When any of those fasts fall on Shabbos, they are postponed to the following day. If, however, the tenth of Teves were to fall on Shabbos,1 then according to certain authorities,2 we would be required to fast, even though this would prevent us from fulfilling the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos (“delighting in the Sabbath”).

This unique status is based on the verse,3On this very day, the king of Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem.” This verse establishes an equivalence between the Tenth of Teves and Yom Kippur, about which it is written,4 “And a person who does not afflict himself on this very day . . .” Just as the fasting of Yom Kippur is observed even on Shabbos, the fasting of the Tenth of Teves would be observed on Shabbos, if necessary.5

The First Stage of a Sequence

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,6 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.

A Missed Opportunity

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.7

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.8 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.9 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.10 Moreover, this victory had spiritual implications: “G‑d desired to make Chizkiyahu Mashiach.”11

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.

Unrestrained Love

The positive intention at the heart of these national calamities is reflected in our commemoration of them, for the purpose of the commemorative fasts is not fasting per se, but rather the repentance of the Jewish people.12 Ultimately, this positive intention will blossom forth in the era of the Redemption, when, as Rambam writes,13 “All these [commemorative] fasts will be nullified; . . . indeed, . . . they will be transformed into holidays and days of rejoicing and celebration.”

As a prooftext, Rambam cites the prophecy:14 “Thus declares the L‑rd 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 concluding admonition (“Love truth and peace!”), Rambam points out the approach necessary to precipitate the transformation of the fasts into days of celebration. Our sages explain15 that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of our people came about because of unwarranted hatred.16 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.17

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 Redemption. This will initiate an era when18 “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 the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, vol. 25, pp. 267ff, and the sichos of Asarah B’Teves 5739 and 5745.