By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Rav Yoseph Karo (Beis Yoseph 550) cites the view of the Avudraham that the fast of Asarah B’Teves is different from all the other fasts. How so? If Asarah B’Teves were to fall on Shabbos
(which it doesn’t, in our set calendar), it would not be pushed off to another day. It would have to be observed on the Shabbos itself.
Why would this be the case?
The Avudraham explains that it is on account of the wording in a verse found in Sefer Yechezkel (24:2), “on this very day,” which equates it to Yom Kippur. Rav Karo states that he does not know where the Avudraham derived this from. Rav Karo further notes that the tenth of Teves will at times fall on a Friday, but none of the other fasts ever do. In the Shulchan Aruch itself (550), Rav Karo rules that none of the four fasts set aside Shabbos, but we will deal with the view of the Avudraham in this essay.
We must also try to understand why it is, according to the Avudraham, that Asarah B’Teves is different than the other fasts, and why the Avudraham chose to state this difference regarding Shabbos when he himself writes that it never actually falls on Shabbos!
Also, notwithstanding that the fast appears in Tanach, at the end of the day, it is a rabbinic enactment. Oneg Shabbos, enjoying ourselves on the Shabbos, is, according to most poskim, a Torah obligation! Why would Asarah B’Teves set Shabbos aside?
A look at the great commentaries reveals that there are no less than three overall approaches to understanding the Avudraham’s unique perspective on Asarah B’Teves.
Ya’aros Dvash And Bnei Yissaschar. Asarah B’Teves marks the siege on the holy city of Yerushalayim that ultimately led to its destruction, the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, and the exile of Klal Yisrael. Beginnings are very stringent—even more so than the end result.
The Bnei Yissaschar (14:1) proves this point from the fact that we mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on the ninth of Av—not the tenth of Av—even though the majority of it burned on the tenth. This possibility of understanding the Avudraham was first proposed by Rav Yonasan Eibeschutz (Yaaros Dvash Volume I Drush #2 for Tishah B’Av).
Chasam Sofer. Another explanation of the Avudraham is found in the Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe on Zayin Adar). He writes that all the other fasts commemorate a terrible tragedy that the nation of Israel incurred. Not so the fast of Asarah B’Teves. The Chasam Sofer writes that Asarah B’Teves is the one fast that we have to help prevent a tragedy from occurring. It gives us an opportunity to determine whether the state of being without the Beis HaMikdash will continue. This type of fast is actually a beneficial one—where we have within our hands to rectify an error. When we are given such an opportunity it is a joy, an oneg. That being the case, we can well understand why the Avudraham writes that if it were to fall on Shabbos we would still fast—it is a joy.
Minchas Chinuch And Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. There is a third possibility in how to understand the Avudraham. Rav Yoseph Babad (1801-1874), author of the Minchas Chinuch, explains (301:7) that the nature of all of the fasts is that they can be celebrated in the general month in which the fast occurs.
We find this idea expressed even earlier by the Ritvah (Rosh Hashanah 18b), that the Nevi’im were already aware of the future destruction that would happen, and therefore ordained the fasts as approximate—in other words, they may be observed in other days of that month, such as the Sunday following Shabbos, if need be.
While the Minchas Chinuch does not state this, the Avudraham may rule that this is not the case in regard to Asarah B’Teves. Regarding Asarah B’Teves, the verse in Sefer Yechezkel (24:2), “on this very day,” changes it for Asarah B’Teves. Asarah B’Teves must remain on the day that it was originally ordained.
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik proposes this very understanding in the words of an earlier authority whom he quotes (Chiddushei HaGraZ Stencils p. 27 #44). One may attempt to place Rav Soloveitchik’s words in the Avudraham, but the actual reading may be somewhat difficult. Curiously, Rav Chaim writes that he is explaining the words of the BaHaG, but the BahaG does not actually discuss the issue at all.
Both according to the Minchas Chinuch and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, one can make the following observation: In general, fast days would not be set aside on Shabbos, were it not for the fact that they could be celebrated on another day in that month.
Proof For The Avudraham. Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (Ohr Sameach Hilchos Ta’anis 5:6) tries to bring a proof for the position of the Avudraham from a passage in the Talmud (Eiruvin 40b). The Talmud poses the question of whether someone who is observing a private fast on a Friday finishes the fast until the stars come out on Friday night, which is well into Shabbos. Rav Meir Simcha points out that the Talmud could have posed the same question in regard to a regular public fast. The only regular public fast that falls on a Friday is the 10th of Teves.
Yet, for some reason, the Talmud chose not to ask that question regarding the 10th of Teves. The answer must be, reasons Rav Meir Simcha, that it is too obvious that one would be obligated to complete the fast for the 10th of Teves. Why? Because the 10th of Teves would even push aside Shabbos itself! It would thus certainly require the faster to complete the fast until the stars come out on Friday night of Shabbos!
Proof For Rav Meir Simcha. Backing up Rav Meir Simcha is the fact that the Shulchan Aruch OC 288:5 rules regarding when one fasts on account of a bad dream, that one may fast on Shabbos. Thus, the Shulchan Aruch rules in 249:4 that one fasting for a bad dream on Friday certainly does fast until the stars come out on Friday night—it is a kal vachomer argument!
Ultimately, the halacha is not like the Avudraham. However, we can still derive remarkable insight and inspiration from all three of the explanations to his words. We can be inspired from the fact that, according to the Yaaros Dvash and the Bnei Yissaschar, beginnings do matter and matter enormously. They carry within them messages of tremendous import. The idea that the Chasam Sofer presents of Asarah B’Teives being unique in that it is an opportunity to change the course of our future is also something that should be welcomed. Finally, one can also learn much from the opinions of the Minchas Chinuch and Rav Soloveitchik that the fast days are indeed very weighty, and, at least according to their view, they would even set aside the Shabbos itself were it not for other factors.
We should utilize all of these explanations to help add vitality to our observance of the fast days in general and Asarah B’Teves specifically. v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.