We all know the feeling of being under siege.

It may be as innocuous as being the only other vegetarian at the family reunion dinner, or one of the few pro-Bush guys in the office. Or as disquieting as being the only person of your skin color in the subway car, or the only member of your gender in a crowded elevator. Or as terrifying as being herded into a room with the rest of the embassy staff by masked gunmen, or your country being attacked by a powerful foe. These scenarios share little in common, of course — except for the common situation of finding yourself part of a distinct group of people who are outnumbered or otherwise overwhelmed by a common adversary.

An interesting thing happens in these situations: we begin to feel a kinship with our fellow besieged. People who ordinarily would not interest us in the least — people who, in ordinary circumstances, we would perhaps even despise — become our brothers and sisters. We begin to care about them; their suffering becomes our suffering, their triumphs become our triumph. An attack on them becomes an attack on us — after all, we're in this together.

A hallmark of Chassidic teaching is to seek out the kernel of truth buried in even the most blatant lie, to search for the spark of joy hidden within the most oppressive sadness, to unearth the core of goodness languishing within the most sinister evil.

The point of this is not that the lie now becomes less false, or that the evil is less vehemently opposed, or that the sadness is thus diminished. On the contrary: a falsehood it is all the more perfidious for its corruption of the truth it has commandeered, evil is all the more to be battled because of the goodness it enfolds within itself and feeds upon, a tragedy is all the more tragic because it represents a potential joy in malformed garments. The point is that even as we denounce falsehood, fight evil and mourn tragedy, we simultaneously engage the negativity in our world on another, more inner plane: by reclaiming its positive core.

When we are faced with a lie we renounce it. But we also dig deeper. We ask ourselves: what gives this lie its sham of credibility? What truth has it hijacked and twisted? How can we reaffirm this truth so that it shines forth in its purity, thereby revealing the hollowness and fallacy of the lie that has impersonated it?

When faced with evil, we battle it. But we also dig deeper. We ask ourselves: What is the source of its power? What good and positive force has it tapped into and exploited? How can we redeem that captive good so that the husk of evil that conceals it melts away as darkness melts away before light?

When faced with a tragedy we mourn. But we also dig deeper. We ask ourselves: what positive element lies buried within this negative experience? For we believe that the essence of every thing, force or phenomenon in G‑d's world is good. We cannot always see it. But we always look for it.

The 10th of the month of Tevet on the Jewish calendar is a fast day. On this date — in the year 425 BCE — the armies of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchanezzar laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. This was the first of a series of events leading to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. It is thus a day of fasting and repentance — a day in which we mourn the tragic events of the day, contemplate their deeper causes in our own souls and deeds, and work to correct them.

But the Chassidic masters teach us to seek also the positive aspect. Without detracting in any way from the need to mourn and rectify the negativity of the events of Tevet 10, we must also zero in on the positive core at its heart.

Coming under siege is a horrible experience. A literal siege brings famine, plague and bloodshed. But also figurative "sieges" are predominantly negative, engendering feelings of helplessness and victimization. Beneath all that negativity, however, lies the liberating and empowering realization: We're in this together! Despite our differences, despite the animosities and quarrels that strive to drive us apart, we share a common fate, a common identity, a common goal. Being under siege brings to light a truth that was always there but which we had hitherto been prevented from or have avoided seeing — the truth that we are all one.

The trick, of course, is to grasp this truth, to hold on to it and possess it, without its negative trappings. To rid ourselves of the negativity of Tevet 10 and retain only its positive core.

May it be speedily in our day.

For more on the fast of Tevet 10 see here.