1. As explained at previous occasions, it is customary on a fast day to speak “words that motivate Teshuvah.” A fast day is “a time of will” in the spiritual realms and likewise “a time of will” in the personal world of the soul. Every Jew’s soul is “actually a part of G‑d from above” and our Sages have stated, “Tzaddikim (which refers to every Jew as the prophet declared: ‘Your nation are all Tzaddikim’) resemble their Creator.” The soul is the most important aspect of our behavior and the body is secondary.1 Hence, the spiritual influences above are reflected in our own souls. Thus, “a time of will” above becomes a “time of will” for every Jew to accomplish more in his task of serving his Creator. No matter how awake he is to Torah and mitzvos despite the darkness of Golus, during “a time of will,” the potential exists for an increase. Hence, it is appropriate to speak “words that motivate Teshuvah” for the time is fitting for them to be accepted, enter the hearts of the listeners, and bring about deed, for “deed is most essential.”

The above constitutes the ultimate intent of a fast day. The Rambam writes that a fast day emphasizes that the events which the fast commemorates are not accidental but were intended to motivate the Jews to Teshuvah.

There is no possibility of something accidental happening to a Jew, rather everything is by Hashgachah Protis. Furthermore, we are given the promise “The L‑rd is your guardian; the L‑rd is your protective shade at your right hand.” Hence, nothing can affect a Jew unless therein lies a specific intention of G‑d’s. G‑d is “the essence and ultimate of good and it is the nature of good to do good.” Hence the ultimate intent behind anything that happens to a Jew is good. In regard to the matter at hand, the fasts: their intent is that a Jew correct, through Teshuvah, the events which led to the fast and thus elevate them.

The above concept applies to any event that happens to a single Jew. How much more so is it relevant to the four fasts which commemorate events that affected the entire Jewish people. Surely, they did not, heaven forbid, come about accidentally, but rather were motivated by an intent to bring about good for the Jews. This will be realized when through Teshuvah, the Jews will cause the fasts (and likewise, the reasons which led to them) to be nullified, as the Rambam writes, “In the Messianic Age all of these fasts will be nullified.”

Among the four fasts, there is a more severe element in the fast of Asarah B’Teves which, hence, requires a more intense Teshuvah. Asarah B’Teves commemorates the laying of siege around Jerusalem. Had the Jewish people heeded the Divine warning thus implied, the events leading to the other fasts would never have occurred. Thus, it can be considered as the beginning and the most severe of all the fasts.

Furthermore, Asarah B’Teves is called “the fast of the tenth month” because it occurs (on the tenth day) of the tenth month. The principle “The tenth will be holy” applies regarding all matters of holiness. Despite this influence, on Asarah B’Teves the chain of events that led to the Temple’s destruction began. Nevertheless, since as stated above “G‑d is the ultimate and the essence of good and it is the nature of the good to do good,” the intent of even this severe occurrence could only have been good.

There is a general principle — “A descent is for the purpose of an ascent.” The intent behind each descent is that (not only should one return to his previous level, but) one should surpass his previous level. This is alluded to in the expression “the advantage of light over darkness and the advantage of wisdom over folly.”

The purpose of all of the descents — the descent that allowed for the possibility of darkness and folly, the descent of the soul into the body and the descent into exile (which began on Asarah B’Teves) is ascent. They are intended to help man reach a higher state of elevation, above even Gan Eden before the sin. This will be realized in the Messianic redemption.

Thus, the intent of the fasts is not only that they be nullified, but that they be transformed into festivals, as the Rambam writes, “In the future, they will be festivals and days of happiness and rejoicing.” Thus is expressed in the “higher quality of light.”

[The latter quote concludes the Rambam’s laws of fasts. Thus, we can see the connection between the beginning of his treatise on the subject and its conclusion. He begins, as quoted above, by stating that the events the fasts commemorate did not come accidentally, but rather in order to motivate Teshuvah. Through Teshuvah we bring about the higher quality of light, ultimately leading to the Messianic redemption when these days will be marked as festivals.]

Likewise, on the basis of the above, we can understand the Halachic directive that can be derived from the Rambam’s statement: When we realize that eventually the fasts will be transformed into festivals and days of rejoicing, we will not, heaven forbid, fall into sadness or depression even during the time they are fasts. On the contrary, meditating on the reason for the fast and doing Teshuvah will strengthen our hopes of redemption. Furthermore, that redemption will be characterized by wonders, for since “the higher quality of light comes from the darkness,” we will be elevated to a level above the one originally maintained before the descent.

This is the lesson we can learn from “the fast of the tenth month.” Even though a great process of descent began on that day, though it was the tenth day of the tenth month, a descent that eventually led to the darkness of Golus, including the double darkness of our generation, nevertheless, we must realize the descent was for the purpose of ascent, to reach the “higher level of light.” Even though before the siege was laid on Jerusalem, the Temple existed and the entire city of Jerusalem was intact, surrounded by a wall, through the process of descent and ascent that began with the siege, we will reach a higher level. Therefore, the meditation on the extent of the descent should not bring about depression or sadness, rather bitterness. We should feel pained and bitter that the process which led to exile began on that day. However, these very feelings will serve as a prod motivating Teshuvah: Teshuvah in a simple sense, repenting for the sins which caused us to be exiled from our land, and Teshuvah in a complete sense, Teshuvah motivated by love, which causes one’s willful sins to be transformed into merits.

Through the above, we can understand how a proper Teshuvah can bring about “the higher quality of light” to the point where it can transform the fast days into festivals. Since proper observance of the fast days will motivate a greater involvement in Torah and Mitzvos surpassing one’s level before the sin, one becomes, in the Rambam’s words, “beloved and precious before G‑d as if he had never sinned.” Furthermore, his reward will be great. Therefore, “before they call, I (G‑d) will answer,” answering also our prayers recited before in the afternoon service which ask “speedily cause the scion of Dovid, Your servant, to flourish” and “May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy.” These prayers will be further enhanced by the addition in those prayers of the priestly blessings. The commentaries explain that the priestly blessings hasten blessings from Above to materialize, as the verse declares, “His word runs most swiftly” and “I will hasten My word to perform it.” An added element to our prayers comes from the fact that they are recited in a house of study and a house of prayer. This will likewise hasten their fulfillment and the coming of the Messianic redemption.

In addition to meditating on the reason and intent for the fast, which will cause it to be transformed into a day of rejoicing, we must also increase our involvement along the three avenues of service: Torah, prayer, and deeds of kindness. Our Sages explain that I (G‑d) consider “one who occupies2 himself with Torah, deeds of kindness, and prays with the community as if he has redeemed Me and My children from among the nations of the world.” May we see this actually realized in the true and complete redemption, led by Moshiach.

To summarize: May we use this time that remains in the time of will of the fast of the tenth month to occupy ourselves with an increase in the study of Torah, both Niglah (the exoteric legal realm of Torah study) and Nistar (the esoteric, mystic domain), deeds of kindness — giving Tzedakah, and praying with a Minyan, adding to our intent and service in prayer including the preparation for the Maariv prayer to come, and taking on good resolutions for the days to come. This will bring about the immediate transformation of “these days into happiness and rejoicing” for the redemption will immediately come and the coming fasts will be celebrated as festivals.

2. The above remarks concerning the great descent that took place on the fast of the tenth month — ”the tenth will be holy” — applies every year. There are added lessons that we can learn from the Asarah B’Teves of the present year. They can be derived from the fact that: 1) this is a Hakhel year — one in which we must “gather together the men, women, and children;” 2) this year Asarah B’Teves falls on the fourth day of parshas Vayechi. It is well known that the previous Rebbe stressed the custom of learning Chitas, studying the portion of the Torah connected with that day and deriving a lesson from it, as the Alter Rebbe explained, “One must live with the times — studying the day’s Torah portion and deriving a lesson that can be applied in actual deed.”

The connection of Asarah B’Teves with a Hakhel year can be explained as follows: Asarah B’Teves began the siege on Jerusalem, the place in which the Hakhel was held. Especially during such a year we should feel a more intense awareness of the loss.

There is another factor relating Asarah B’Teves to Hakhel: Hakhel expresses Sheleimus HaAm — the complete state of the Jewish people. Gathering together “the entire nation — men, women, and children, shows the complete state of our people. Asarah B’Teves is connected with the complete state of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is only complete when it is surrounded by a wall (which grants it a higher status of holiness than the rest of Eretz Yisroel3 ) and when the Temple is standing. Furthermore, since Jerusalem is the capital and major city of the entire Eretz Yisroel, it follows that the Sheleimus HaAretz, the complete state of Eretz Yisroel, is dependent on Jerusalem.4

Thus, we can see the connection between Asarah B’Teves and Hakhel. This stresses that the Sheleimus of Jerusalem and of Eretz Yisroel is connected with the Sheleimus (the Hakhel) of the Jewish people, and also the Sheleimus of Torah, for the purpose of Hakhel was to hear “all the words of this Torah.”5 In simple terms, the Sheleimus of Eretz Yisroel will be when “all of its inhabitants dwell within,” i.e. when it is filled with Jews and filled with Yiddishkeit.

Thus, there is a practical lesson that can be derived from Asarah B’Teves of this year. In regard to the Jewish people, if even one soul is missing, one has lost an entire world and in regard to the Torah, every letter and every crown is necessary. Similarly in regard to Eretz Yisroel, every portion of the land is important. Heaven forbid that we should scorn the land which G‑d has returned to us with open miracles. We cannot return the land to “goyishkeit” and how much more so, not to gentile nations. Even though there are those who try to propose reasons to the contrary, they must know that this is connected with a holy nation, a holy land, and a holy Torah. In such a situation, G‑d’s influence is surely felt and we can succeed in following a course of action above reason.

Furthermore, when Ya’akov was promised Eretz Yisroel, that promise was connected with Uforatzta — breaking forth6 — going beyond the barriers of reason and logic. Even though the world in which we live was structured by G‑d to be limited and defined, the purpose of that limitation was so that a Jew will reach the service of Uforatzta and break through the boundaries and limitations of the world.

The above serves as a lesson in our behavior. Mitzvos are limited. For example, regarding the mitzvah of tefillin (and our Sages have taught — ”the entire Torah is related to tefillin”), the boxes, must contain four (not three or five) portions of Torah, be “two fingers by two fingers, etc.” However, we must inject into this service the love of G‑d — “with all your might,” an aspect that breaks through all boundaries and limitations. This service is necessary and obligatory at present in the generation directly preceding Moshiach’s coming. Hence, we can presume that the power to add this transcendent quality has been given to us.

3. The connection between the fast and the portion of the Torah connected with today can be explained as follows: Previously, it was explained that the purpose of the fasts was not to bring about depression, but rather to increase one’s hope for the Messianic redemption. This concept is stressed in the very beginning of the day’s Torah reading. It states: that Ya’akov gathered his sons and wanted “to tell them what would happen to them in the end of days.” Rashi comments: Ya’akov wanted to reveal the time of the Messianic redemption. Likewise, the conclusion of the reading, the verse “For your salvation, I hope, O L‑rd” expresses a similar wish. On that verse, the Targum Yerushalmi comments: “Ya’akov, our Patriarch said — My soul does not wait for a salvation like that of Gideon ..., for that was temporary, nor does my soul wait for a salvation like that of Shimshon, which was transitory, but for the salvation which You have promised Your people, Israel.” He referred to the salvation that comes from G‑d Himself, Who will gather each Jew individually from exile.

Our Sages have explained: “All the appointed times for Moshiach’s coming have passed and the matter is only dependent on Teshuvah.” The time for Moshiach’s coming arrived long ago and all that is necessary is one turn of Teshuvah. By turning to G‑d, His Torah and His Mitzvos, we can bring “Your salvation.” Even though it might appear to someone that it is very difficult for him to do teshuvah, that thought is utterly false. Every Jew has “an actual part of G‑d from above” within him and hence can be aroused to teshuvah.

Teshuvah means the firm decision that everything that one has done previously is considered as past and in the future, all that one will do is serve one’s Creator. Included in the latter is “hoping for Your salvation, O’ L‑rd,” for the coming of the Messianic redemption. Hence, one should do what is necessary to bring about the redemption including “occupying oneself with Torah and deeds of kindness and praying with the community.” Similarly, the study of Torah and the giving of tzedakah should be done communally. Hence, after we have recited the Minchah prayer communally, we should join in a communal study and also give tzedakah as one body. Likewise, the community should as a unit take on good resolutions. These activities will cause Moshiach to come now “and our eyes will behold Your return to Zion, in mercy.”