1. Fasts are among “the paths of Teshuvah... to arouse the hearts and open them to the ways of Teshuvah... The remembrance of these events [will cause us] to repent and better [our behavior].” Thus, a fast day is referred to as a day of will. Accordingly, on such an occasion, it is customary to speak Divrei Kivushin, words that motivate repentance. This is particularly true when the address is made in public, when ten Jews are present, at which time, the Divine Presence rests among those assembled.1 The above is further enhanced when the gathering is held in a synagogue and house of study.

The intent is to nullify our undesirable deeds, the reason for the fasts. As a natural result, the fasts themselves will be nullified. Furthermore, as the Rambam writes in the conclusion of Hilchos Taanios, in the Messianic age, not only will the fasts be nullified, they will be transformed into festivals and days of rejoicing.2

Though this concept is relevant to all the communal fast days, it is particularly relevant to the tenth of Teves. As the Avudraham writes, the tenth of Teves possesses a more serious dimension than any of the other communal fasts. Therefore, it would be necessary to fast on the tenth of Teves even if it were to fall on the Sabbath. If this is true regarding the discomfort which accompanies a communal fast, surely, it also applies in regard to the positive dimension, the fact that a fast is “a day of will.” This quality also has greater strength on the tenth of Teves.

2. Each year, we must reach a higher level as implied by the directive, “Advance higher in holy matters.” Therefore, even though the tenth of Teves falls on the same day of the week and is connected with same Torah portion, Parshas Vayechi, there is an added dimension associated with the tenth of Teves this year because this is a Shemitah year, a year which is “a Shabbos unto G‑d.” This Shabbos-like quality is further enhanced by the fact that Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year,” fell on Shabbos. Just as the head controls and directs the functioning of every limb of the body, the “head of the year” effects the entire year. Even though these qualities are associated with the year as a whole, they also effect the particular aspects of the year.3

On Shabbos, a Jew should feel that “All your work is completed,” and the day is one of pleasure, as the verse states: “And you shall call the Shabbos a delight.” Indeed, our Sages refer to the Shabbos as “A microcosm of the world to come,” a reflection of the ultimate pleasure that will be experienced during the era which is “entirely Shabbos and rest for eternity.”

When applied by each individual, the above implies that our service of G‑d should be carried out with pleasure. Our study of Torah4 should be characterized by pleasure as should our service of prayer, i.e., our prayers should not only be requests for our needs, but also a process of connection with G‑d which should produce the ultimate pleasure.

The connection of a communal fast with the aspect of pleasure may seem difficult to comprehend. However, in regard to the present occasion, the following points can be made:

(a) A fast represents the transformation of the day into “a day of will,” the innermost aspect of will being pleasure. In Halachah, there is a law which provides a parallel circumstance. A person may undertake a fast because of a disturbing dream on the Shabbos. Since the person desires to fast, his desire transforms the activity from one of suffering to one of pleasure. (b) The tenth of Teves can be equated with Yom Kippur for these are the only two fasts which are to be held even on the Shabbos. On Yom Kippur, the fasting should be experienced as an act of pleasure, a pleasure which transcends all physical expression in reflection of the world to come where there will be no eating or drinking.5 (c) The day of the week, Sunday, is also connected with pleasure as evidenced by the behavior of the Anshei Maamad (Taanis ch. 4). (d) The portion of the week, Parshas Vayechi, also emphasizes the aspect of pleasure. The Zohar relates that the 17 years spent by Yaakov in Egypt were characterized by complete spiritual pleasures.

A deeper dimension of the above is brought out by the interpretation of one of the verses of this week’s portion in the teachings of Chassidus. Our Sages associated the verse: “His eyes are red from wine,” with the aspect of pleasure, explaining that the word חכלילי can be interpreted: “One says, ‘Give it to me,’ ‘Give it to me,’ regarding everything that is tasted by the palate.” The Alter Rebbe explains that this refers to the highest level of love for G‑d, love which is accompanied by pleasure. This level is parallel to the level of the Shabbos. It is also connected with wine which is a metaphor for the secrets of Torah. The ultimate revelation of this quality will come in the Messianic age. (Therefore, Jacob’s prophecy associates this level with the coming of Shiloh, which refers to the Mashiach.)

The above is also related to the quality of teshuvah for teshuvah is the service which will bring about the ultimate transformation of the fasts into days of celebration. Just as teshuvah transforms sins into merits, it transforms the fasts, the results of the sins, into days of rejoicing. This is accomplished by the higher rung of teshuvah, teshuvah that is motivated by love, a great and powerful yearning for G‑d resembling that felt by a thirsty person who yearns for water.

Although at the outset, what is felt is thirst and yearning for G‑d, it is self-understood that this yearning will make it easier for a person to experience pleasure in the love of G‑d, indeed, greater pleasure than that experienced by the righteous as evident from our Sages’ statement: “Completely righteous men are unable to stand in the place of Baalei-Teshuvah.”

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3. After mentioning that in the Messianic age, the communal fasts will be transformed into days of celebration, the Rambam concludes his discussion of these laws by quoting a proof to that effect from the prophet Zechariah. Significantly, the Rambam quotes not only the portion of the verse that describes the transformation of the fasts, but also the verse’s concluding phrase “and they shall love truth and peace,” although on the surface, it has nothing to do with the concept of fasting.

On a previous occasion,6 it was explained that this implies that the path to transforming the fasts into days of celebration is through “loving truth and peace,” i.e., through spreading the love of one’s fellow Jew. Since the exile came about because of the sin of unwonted hatred, the nullification of the reason for the exile will nullify the exile itself and bring the redemption.

Nevertheless, this explanation is insufficient because — were it to be true — the phrase “and they shall love truth and peace” should precede the prophecy describing the transformation of the fasts and not follow it. Accordingly, it appears that the phrase “and they shall love truth and peace” refers to a higher and more complete state than that connected with the transformation of the fasts into days of celebration.

Though the transformation of the fasts into days of celebration involves the highest level of love for G‑d, a person at such a level still has a sense of his individual being, the existence of the lover still remains. Accordingly, many Chassidic texts extol the advantages of “a simple servant” and “a faithful servant,” i.e., a person who nullifies his entire being by dedicating himself to service of his master. His emotions and his intellect, even his will and his capacity for pleasure are all given over to his master until he no longer has any individual existence. His entire existence becomes an extension of that of his master.

The phrase “and they shall love truth and peace” can be interpreted in this context. “Truth” refers to G‑d’s essence for He is the only absolute and ultimate truth. In our service, this refers to the service which relates to His essence, absolute bittul (self-nullification). Furthermore, this bittul should not be self-contained, but rather, should be spread throughout the world in its totality, making the entire world “a dwelling place for Him.” Just as a person reveals his character in his own dwelling, so, too, the entire world will be transformed into a place where there is no other existence apart from the revelation of G‑d’s essence.

The verse continues mentioning, “Shalom,” the Hebrew for “peace,” which is related to the word “shelaimus” meaning “completion” or “perfection.” The ultimate level of perfection will be reached when this quality of bittul is spread throughout the world.

The “love” mentioned in this verse refers to the love relationship between G‑d and the Jews. Because of His great love for us, He assists us in carrying out the above service. His love is evoked by our expression of love for Him.

As all the revelations of the Messianic age, the transformation of the fast days into days of celebration is dependent on our service during the present age. In this context, we can derive a lesson from this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayechi. The portion begins, “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt.” The Baal HaTurim explains that these were the seventeen best years of Yaakov’s life.

It is related that the Tzemach Tzedek asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, how it was possible that the best years of Yaakov’s life were spent in Egypt. The Alter Rebbe answered him that since Yaakov’s children were involved with Torah study (See Rashi’s commentary which interprets Yaakov’s sending of Yehudah to Goshen as being intended to establish a Yeshivah), these became the best years of his life.

This story is relevant to all of us for the soul of Yaakov contained the souls of all of the Jews. Even when the Jews are in exile, they can experience the ultimate spiritual pleasures. By carrying out such a service, they fulfill the purpose of exile. Once this is done, the Messianic redemption will immediately come.

This is particularly relevant since, as the Previous Rebbe7 proclaimed, all that is necessary to bring Mashiach is to polish the buttons. The coat is ready, i.e., the service of the Jewish people has been completed with the exception of making the most minor details shine. Nevertheless, Mashiach has still not come. Hence, it is necessary to accept further resolutions regarding our thought, speech, and action for each individual activity has the power to bring about the coming of that redemption as the Rambam explains.

In that vein, it is worthy to mention the directives for action that can be derived from the Haftorah recited on a fast day. Included in the Haftorah is the verse, “And you shall preserve judgment and perform Tzedakah.” “Judgment” refers to Torah study. Thus, this verse stresses the importance of increasing the study of Torah and our gifts to charity.

The Haftorah also states: “And I will grant them a monument and a memorial in My house and within My walls,” which alludes to the construction of buildings dedicated to the study of Torah, prayer, and deeds of kindness. Implied also is the idea that each person should dedicate his own home to these purposes. This involves making it “a place where the wise gather” to hold Chassidic farbrengens from time to time. This act of Ahavas Yisrael involving many other Jews will nullify — in a positive sense — the concept of self-importance which a person feels in his own home.

The Haftorah also mentions that “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” This relates to the efforts to influence the gentiles to keep the seven universal laws given to the descendants of Noach as the Rambam requires. This, in turn, will hasten the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy, “Then I will transform the nations....”

Now is also an appropriate opportunity to express thanks, good wishes, and blessings to all those who troubled themselves to join in the celebrations over the proclamation concerning the printing of more texts of Chassidus. May we always have the opportunity to rejoice on occasions involved with the publication of such texts and the establishment of Chabad Houses.

We will conclude with the distribution of money to be given to Tzedakah and thus add the third of “the pillars on which the world stands.” May these activities hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy from today’s Haftorah, “Soon My deliverance will come and My righteousness will be revealed,” with the coming of Mashiach. May it be speedily, in our days.