Friday, December 17, 2010

Thought for the 10th of Teves

mToday is the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Teves (or Tevet, depending on how you pronounce it). It is a minor fast day in the Jewish calendar, which means we don't eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. It doesn't have all the restrictions of the major fasts like Yom Kippur or Tisha B'Av, but it does have one special characteristic that other fast days don't have. If it comes out on a Friday it isn't pushed off. So, today with spent with longer prayer servers, extra readings from the Torah and no food. Which is kind of difficult considering the need to prepare the meals for Shabbos (that'd be the Sabbath). There are several reasons the Prophets declared the 10th of Teves a fast day.The main historical happening that prompted this is this is the day that Nebuchadnezzar started his siege on Jerusalem in 588 B.C.E. which was the start of the  destruction of the first Temple. There are other reasons mentioned as well, one being the passing of Ezra the Scribe, who lead the return from the Babylonian exile to found the Second Temple. The only problem is that he passed away on the ninth and not the tenth of Teves. So why do we commemorate it on the tenth.
I am lucky enough to participate in a class given weekly by Rabbi Shlomo Fisher and he addressed this topic in a brief exposition at the end of his usual discourse.

The two people who lead the return from Babylon to start the Second Temple period were, as said Ezra the Scribe and Nehemiah. The structure of Jewish Leadership is based on the King and the High Priest. Ezra was from the Priestly family and Nehemiah was from the line of King David. This brings us to the end of the Second Temple period when the Hasmoneans ruled following the revolt against the Selucid Greeks which we commemorate with Hannukah. The Hasmoneans were a Priestly family, yet ruled as Kings of Israel, for this they come in for much criticism by the Rabbinic Sages. There are several reasons given for this criticism, but the one Rav Shlomo discussed was that this was a fundamental break with the proper structure of the Leadership. The proper way is for the King to rule and the High Priest to act as his foil, his moral conscience making sure that the King, given absolute power, did not transgress the Divine Word. In taking the Kingship for themselves the Hasmoneans perverted this and left no one to keep the King on the straight and narrow, therefore leading to the eventual destruction of the Temple. Which brings us back to the death of Ezra. As mentioned he too was the High Priest and with his passing Nehemiah had lost the other necessary half to keep the system running smoothly, he understood that this a dangerous situation that, like the siege of Nebuchadnezzar would be the first step to the eventual destruction of the Temple. The first day of his Kingship without Ezra was the Tenth of Teves and so we also commemorate his passing on that day.

Good Shabbos!

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