Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:
Around the time you will be reading this shul bulletin article, we will be observing the annual, public partial-day fast of Asarah B’Tevet, the 10th Day of (the Hebrew month of…) Tevet (this year on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020).
I mention that this is a “public” fast day, versus private fast days that individuals can place on themselves, obligating themselves for a partial-day fast for a single day observance or an annual commemoration for reasons that the individual faster can determine.
Private fast days are all half fast days. Private Fast Days can include people choosing to fast for the observance of yahrtzeits, for the three fast days of “Bahab,” (explanation some other time), and for performance of repentance with “Intentional Teshuva.”
There are six public fast days on the Jewish calendar, some of which are better known than others. From most prominent to least they are: Yom Kippur, Tisha B’av (the 9th of Av), Taanit Esther (the Fast of Esther), Tzom Gedalyah (the Fast of Gedalyah), Shiva Asar B’Tammuz (the 17th of Tammuz), and Asarah B’Tevet (the 10th of Tevet).
Of these six fast days, two of them: Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av are FULL fast days, beginning with “Shekiyat Ha-Chama,” sundown on the eve of the day BEFORE the full fast day. The four remaining partial fast days, (often erroneously referred to as “half fast days,” they are NOWHERE NEAR “half days!” ) begin with “Alot HaShachar,” dawn (not “Netz HaChama,” sunrise), the day of the designated fast.
ALL six fast days end with “tzeit ha-kochavim,” at the onset of full darkness on the day of the fast.
Four of the fast days are related to the destruction of Jerusalem and the conquest of Eretz Yisrael at different times and different points in the tragic wars and cruelty which accompanied the destruction and conquest. Those four days are Asarah B’Tevet, Shiva Asar B’Tammuz, Tisha B’av, and Tzom Gedalyah.
The “gateway” to the four fast days related to the destruction of Jerusalem and the conquest of Eretz Yisrael is the fast of Asarah B’Tevet. This fast day marks the three–year siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia in 586 BCE. Without an entire history lesson in this particular bulletin article, the siege of Jerusalem led to the breaching of the walls and the eventual destruction and conquest of Jerusalem and all of Israel. This naturally led to, and created our dispersion, exile, and current being spread all over the world in the ongoing Diaspora of Jews.
An interesting, Kabbalistic-inspired way of viewing all six fast days which MAY be a vehicle for remembering each fast day in its own way is the following categorization:
Shachor (Black) — Lavan (White)
Hu (He) — Hee (She)
Aroch (Long) — Katzar (Short)
The fast day designated as “Black” is the logical day to be defined as a “black, bleak” day on which the greatest of tragedies have befallen our Jewish people. That is Tisha B’av. The horrors of Tisha B’av certainly create a blackness of experience and despair which we hope to see end with the coming of the Moshiach.
The fast day labeled as “White” is naturally the day on which we dress and daven in white, the Torah scrolls are garbed in white, the Parochet (Ark curtain) is white as is the table covering on the Shulchan. That of course is Yom Kippur.
The pronoun: “He,” used to label one of the fast days, is attached to the only fast day named for a male: Gedalyah, with the Fast of Gedalyah.
The pronoun: “She,” used to label another one of the fast days, is attached to the only fast day named for a female: Esther, with the Fast of Esther.
The “Long” fast day is the LONG fast day found during the summer (in the Northern hemisphere) three weeks prior to Tisha B’av, the 17th of Tammuz. The “Short” fast day is the shortest fast day of all, found during the winter (in the Northern hemisphere) one week after Chanukah, the 10th of Tevet.
I hope these memorable designations help to remind us of the fast days as they come up on our Jewish calendar. And I hope that when the fast days DO come, we manage to fulfill the day in the manner in which we are expected and that our Teshuvah (repentance) will be accepted by HaKadosh Baruch Hu in the spirit in which IT is intended.
With Torah blessings,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin