Fury and Optimism – The Hidden Fast
I don’t follow the news every day.
But I am aware that the numbers are rising.
And I know we still have to wear masks.
This week we will be marking the fast of 10th of Tevet.
The 10th of Tevet is one of the five minor fasts, which are often ignored. Many women avoid fasting due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, or general discomfort.
Despite its ‘low rating,’ the 10th of Tevet is the only minor fast that can take place on a Friday, and unusually, that is the case this year.
Why is the 10th of Tevet different than the other minor fasts, and how does the stringent halakhic view of this day correlate with today’s generally dismissive approach?
To understand this we should begin with the history of the 10th of Tevet.
This fast day was set in commemoration of three events that occurred the same week: on the 8th of Tevet, the Torah was translated into Greek; on the 9th of Tevet, Ezra and Nehemiah died; and on the 10th of Tevet, the siege that marked the beginning of Jerusalem’s conquest began. This is the first of the events that culminated in the destruction of the Temple and the city on the 9th of Av, approximately 20 months later.
While remarkably sad, these three events certainly do not seem sufficiently dramatic to warrant a fast: they are preliminary signs of disaster rather than disaster itself. Perhaps this is part of the message of the 10th of Tevet: we are expected to take note of preliminary signs of disaster, instead of burying our heads in the sand.
Reb Zadok explains that the month of Tevet symbolizes fury, which relates to Divine awe. Fury is the power that enables good to prevail over evil; it is a disquiet that drives us to act. While it is important to prevent fury from manifesting through anger, if we don’t allow space to become infuriated with the injustices of the world, we are in a far greater danger of becoming apathetic and inactive. The evils of the world have to be seen, and reacted to, so that they may be corrected.
The month of Tevet calls us to become uncomfortable in light of that which is lacking in the world – even if it is only preliminary signs and seeds of destruction.
This discomfort should drive us to action.
The 10th of Tevet is a juxtaposition of ideal and reality.
Human nature may ignore preliminary signs of disaster, and only acknowledge a problem at its peak. We strive for peace and quiet, we don’t go looking for trouble.
On the 10th of Tevet, we are called to mourn a siege – to see the siege in our lives and surrounding reality. This is not a call to pessimism and giving up hope – but rather a recognition of the reality that is upon us.
We acknowledge the good that surrounds us, but at the same time, avoid burying our heads in the sand; it is a sober intake of a complex and imperfect reality.
Perhaps we do not have to listen to the news daily, but we should be attentive and see that which is ahead.
And be a little infuriated.