Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

The Fast after Rosh Hashanah

One of the least known days in the Jewish calendar is the Fast of Gedalya, which is a minor fast day on the third of Tishrey, the day immediately following Rosh Hashanah. What is this fast day about?

It is about the assassination of a Jewish leader by the name of Gedalya Ben Ahikam, some 2600 years ago. Who was Gedalya, and why was a perpetual fast day decreed on the anniversary of his assassination?

Here’s the story: In the year 586 BCE, the Babylonian Empire destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction, the Babylonians exiled all the Jewish “movers and shakers” from Israel to Babylonia. Those who were allowed to stay in Israel are historically referred to as “Dalat ha’am / the impoverished amongst the people”.

The Babylonians appointed this Jewish man, Gedalya Ben Ahikam, as their proxy to control the Jews who were allowed to stay Israel. Unfortunately, a group of Jewish zealots assassinated Gedalya, and as a result, many of the Jews who were originally allowed to stay in Israel, feared a Babylonian reprisal and fled to Egypt.

In other words, this fast serves to remind us of the heavy price that we pay when a Jew turns against a fellow Jew. Two decades ago, Israel’s Prime Minister, the late Yitzhak Rabin, was also assassinated by a religious zealot, and so, tragically, the important message of this fast day is by no means archaic or anachronistic.

Also, during the last days of the Second Temple, in the year 70 CE, Jewish zealots were fighting Jewish moderates to the death, while the Roman Army was besieging the walls of Jerusalem.

It is very telling that our sages wanted us to fast in order to reflect on the imperative of Jewish unity and Ahavat Yisrael (loving our fellow Jew), immediately after we enter a new Jewish year. This fast was instituted by our sages in order remind us that we are a small and vulnerable nation surrounded by many enemies, and that the price and ramifications of domestic Jewish strife and violence is all-too-costly, and one that we can ill afford. We must learn to respect and tolerate our distinct political and religious approaches and never ever, G-d forbid, turn a gun toward a fellow Jew.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Hatima Tovah,

Tal Sessler

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