On Sunday morning, Asarah B’Teves, talmidim at the Rambam Mesivta had the privilege to hear a shiur from Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion.
Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman introduced the program by speaking about the relationship between a yom hata’anis, day of fasting, and teshuvah, repentance. “Fasting should help in refocusing us from thinking about and securing our physical needs to thinking about how we can improve ourselves and become better Torah Jews,” he explained. “The Mishnah Berurah teaches us that if we fast but we while away the day and do not focus on teshuvah, we are neglecting the essential theme of the day and grabbing hold of the smaller aspect of the day. Clearly, we need both, with fasting leading us to teshuvah.”
Rabbi Lichtenstein proceeded to analyze the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 18b which discusses whether the fast in the month of Teves was to be held on the tenth day of the month (which is how we hold) or the fifth day of the month. He explained that designating the tenth day of the month as the fast day was based upon the fact that it was on that day that the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. The siege was a prelude to the eventual breaching of the walls and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. The opinion that suggested that we fast on the fifth day of Teves is based upon the fact that it took approximately five months (from the ninth day of Av until the fifth day of Teves) for the news of the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Mikdash to reach the Jewish community in exile in Babylonia.
Rabbi Lichtenstein went on to explain a fundamental machlokes, difference of opinion, between the Rambam and the Raavad (as quoted in the Ritva). He explained that according to the Rambam, the fast of the 10th day of Teves, along with other fast days, is to inspire us to do teshuvah. However, according to the Raavad, the fast days are in actuality days of mourning and “aveilut, mourning, and teshuvah are diametrically opposed.” Mourning focuses one on the past with the recognition that there is nothing that we can do to change what has taken place. We have no choice but to accept the reality of the events that transpired. Teshuvah on the other hand focuses on the future. We use the past as a springboard to correct our mistakes and inspire us to change for the better.
The Chasam Sofer says that if it were not for the explanation of the Rambam, one would by default think that all the fast days that commemorate the destruction of the Mikdash were in fact an expression of community mourning. “The Rambam revealed to us something that we would not have otherwise known: that the fast days are days of teshuvah and as such we have taken on the tradition of saying Selichos on those days,” writes the Chasam Sofer.
Rabbi Lichtenstein closed his remarks by stating that whether we view Asarah B’Teves as a day of mourning or a day to inspire teshuvah, it is important for us to remember our past and think about all of the kedoshim that died, whether it was during the Churban, the Crusades, the pogroms, the Holocaust, or from any other anti-Semitic attack. In doing so, he was able to show that time does not exist in a vacuum and that the Klal Yisrael is one people for all time. v