Jewish unity is the cure
TorahParshat Vayigash

Jewish unity is the cure

Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

Today is Asara B’Teves, the 10th of Teves. It is the day the Babylonian armies, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege on the holy city of Jerusalem in the year 3,336 from Creation (425 BCE), which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem 31 months later. It is observed by fasting, mourning and repentance, with additional prayers and a special Torah reading and haftorah.

Unlike the other three fasts commemorating the chain of events that culminated with the destruction of the Holy Temple and our exile, Asara B’Teves is the only one that can fall on a Friday, as it does this year. This means that while usually it is forbidden to enter Shabbos fasting, we do so this year, breaking our fast on kiddush after nightfall.

The reason for this fast’s stringency compared to the other three is that it commemorates the first incident in this series of calamitous events. The siege led to the breach of the city walls 2½ years later, the destruction of the Holy Temple and the Jews’ exile on the 9th of Av, and the assassination of Gedaliah ben Achikam the following Rosh Hashanah. He was appointed by the Babylonians to govern a remnant of the Jewish people in the Holy Land, and upon his death those Jews were forced to leave as well, solidifying the exile.

Although, after 70 years of exile, we did return to the Holy Land and build the Second Temple, it wasn’t as glorious as the first, missing five key components. And 420 years later, we were exiled again, this time by the Romans. Ultimately then, the 10th of Teves led to the current exile we are in.

We know that the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple and our current lengthy exile is baseless hatred.

The cure to that, then, is Ahavas Yisroel: loving our fellow Jew.

Our sages say that G-d provides the cure before the disease.

When King Nebuchadnezzar surrounded the holy city, he forcibly brought about unity among its inhabitants. And this was in the city that unites all Jews, as King David describes it in Psalm 122: “Jerusalem that is built like a city in which all Israel
is united together.”

Furthermore, the city’s name — “Jerusalem” — means “complete awe” (yirah shalem). This is because those who visited Jerusalem and witnessed the service in the Holy Temple would be inspired in their fear of Heaven. Thus, the unity was in a place of “complete awe” — based on Torah, mitzvos, and holiness.

Unfortunately, what was brought about by the siege wasn’t authentic, heartfelt unity. And G-d allowed the Babylonians to conquer Jerusalem and exile the Jews.

Maimonides writes that the purpose of the four fasts marking these calamities is to arouse hearts and initiate the paths of repentance. So first and foremost, the 10th of Teves reminds us that the way to end these calamities is through Ahavas Yisroel and Achdus Yisroel — Jewish love and unity, with “complete awe” — based on Torah and mitzvos.

True Jewish unity existed in the days of King Solomon. After his reign, the Jewish people split into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. The 10 tribes of Israel were later exiled, and eventually the kingdom of Judah was as well.

The Torah portion we will read this Shabbat begins: “And Judah approached him [Joseph].” This symbolizes the eventual unity of the two kingdoms. This union will come about with the arrival of Moshiach, when all our fast days will be transformed
into holidays.

May we merit this transformation today, with the ultimate redemption! PJC

Rabbi Yossi Feller is the rabbi of the Chabad Jewish Center of Cranberry. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Western Pennsylvania.

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