It’s mid-term break, and more and more of you are showing up back here on the Ranch (okay-Neve and Bnos Avigail) every day. It’s amazing and really inspiring to see what you are doing and what you are becoming. Yerushalaim is a magnet. You all seem completely at home here, as though you just left a week or so ago, when so many of you are gone years longer. One of the best outcomes of your trip home, is that you still realize that it is a trip home.
Almost, but not quite.
Tomorrow’s fast reminds all of us that we are not quite home. Even those of us who live here, barely know what being home once meant.
The fast of the tenth of Teves commemorates the estrangement that is now part of our lives.
There are three days in Teves that actually were “contenders” for being fast days because fasting for three days is far beyond most people’s capacity. The decision was made to have the 10th act as commemoration for all of the acts of tragic betrayal that took place on the 8th and 9th, 10th as well. Ptolemy (a hereditary title like Pharaoh) ruler of the Southern Kingdom of what was once the Greek Empire, demanded that 70 sages sit in separate cubicles and translate the Torah into Greek. On the surface of things (especially for those of you who are Art scroll addicts) this doesn’t seem to be a tragedy. Quite the opposite, the Torah will reach a wider audience, and Hashem’s word will be known to inestimably more people than would be the case if it were to remain accessible only to Hebrew speakers. The tragedy is that the Torah that interested the Greeks was its outer dimension. They grasped its beauty, elegance, and poetry. They had no idea of its holiness, nor did they really grasp what holiness is. They certainly had no use for mitzvos, especially the ones that demand that you go beyond your comfort level, and walk with faith.
The 9th of Tevet marks the day of Ezra’s death. Ezra, the spiritual leader of the Jews who had returned to Israel after the first exile. Since his time many Tzadikim have died, and many seemingly more overwhelming tragedies have taken place. These leaves you wondering why his death is singled out for being a time to fast after over 2000 years have passed.
Finally, the 10th of Tevet is commemorated for being the beginning of the end. Yerushalaim was surrounded and besieged. No one could leave or enter, making starvation a daily companion. The walls were breached in 13 places on the 17th of Tammuz, and finally the Bais HaMikdash was burnt in the midst of an unspeakable blood bath on the 9th of Av. On the surface of things this event both overshadows the others and is totally unrelated to any of them.
Ohr Gedalyahu is a book written by Rav Gedalya Schorr, of Torah Vodaas yeshiva. His own orientation was Chassidic, and he let the underlying themes of Chassidus and Kabbalah run through his writing. His essay on the 10th of Teves shows you how all three days (8th 9th and 10th of Teves) flow into one long and tragic one.
Ptomay wasn’t the Nosson Scherman of the ancient world, whose life work was to bring Torah to the masses. He was an archetypical Greek, who wanted the Torah translated so that his people could study it and come away with regard for its awesome beauty and elegance, and the depth of its wisdom. They had no real definition of kedushah, holiness, less recognition of G-d Being with us right here, right now, and still less intent to actually observe the mitzvos. This great divide between learning Torah and keeping Torah is still here today, alive and well. This is a genuine tragedy, because it relegates Torah into being dead, a piece of ancient history, rather than something alive enough for close to 100,000 people to celebrate the cycle of studying Talmud on a daily basis.
The fast on the 9th day would have told us what had to happen to keep the Jews from being so enamored by Everything Greek that they forget anything beyond the was Torah’s form. Ezra re-introduced Ktav Ashuri, the kind of Hebrew lettering that was engraved on the Tablets of the Law, but was deemed too sacred to be used by the ordinary people. It never really found the way to the majority of people wrote. It was a holier form of writing, one in which each letter, vowel, space between words and letters is ripe with meaning. Ezra did what no other leader or prophet did before him or after. He got the people to do tshuvah. Something even Moshe was unable to pull off. One of the ways in which this took place was by teaching the deeper meaning of each letter. Gematria etc. isn’t relevant in any other form of writing except the one that Ezra taught; a language in which the letters had “souls” not just bodies, souls that had been forgotten by the masses. His death put an end to the era of return, a place that we have as yet to re-visit, hopefully soon.
Fasting takes you out of the business of eating to survive, and living to eat. It makes you aware that there is sanctity here and now, and that each letter of the Torah is far from random.
Let the fast bring you closer to who you are, and let it inform you about who you don’t want to be, at least not any longer. You have the strength to make a clean break with Greek-Think, you can search for the Torah’s relevance, and not just its beauty. You can can be one of the most important players. You have to know how to “read” the Torah, by hearing it speak to you daily, This can get you and all the rest of us closer to the day when the destruction will be replaced by an era of renewal and redemption.