The Fast of Gedaliah: A Warning from History

Many Jews don’t know that the day following Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish minor fast day. A minor fast day is roughly from sunrise to sunset. The fast day for the day after Rosh Hashanah is named after Gedaliah, the Jewish governor of Israel during the time of the Babylonian exile. Gedaliah was murdered by Jewish zealots in Israel, by fellow Jews. As a result, many more Jews had to leave Israel for fear of a Babylonian reprisal, and fled to Egypt.

Self-inflicted Jewish political violence is a terrible thing. Historically, we went to exile for the first time as a people, after brother turned against brother, when Joseph was sold into slavery by his siblings. We went to exile for the second time, when the ancient kingdom of Israel was split into two distinct geo-political units, because of domestic grievances and strife, following the death of King Solomon. And thirdly, we went to exile after the Great Revolt against Rome, which started in the year 66 CE, and culminated when Jewish moderates and Jewish zealots were murdering each other inside the walls of besieged Jerusalem, as the Roman enemy was readying its forces to enter the city and destroy it.

Jewish civil war and domestic bloodshed always leads to historical debacles. Many an empire tried to eradicate and annihilate our people. They all failed. The only times we lost our sovereignty in Israel was when we couldn’t get along between ourselves, and when brother turned against brother with weapons, in order to kill. Which leads me to the following historical conclusion: there is only one human group of people which is capable of destroying the Jewish people, and that is – the Jewish people.

In 1995, an Orthodox Jew murdered Israel’s Prime Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff, General Yitzhak Rabin. I cannot forget that. For moral Israelis, it is a bleeding scar in our collective consciousness and national psyche. Because of that, I find great value and meaning in the Fast of Gedaliah, and I make a point of fasting, and of reading and meditating about the Rabin assassination during that daunting day in the Jewish calendar, which is consecrated to the preaching of political sanity, and to the steadfast rejection of zealotry and fanaticism.

May Hashem protect us from all murderous zealots and fanatics, both foreign and domestic, and may we always maintain our moral equilibrium, and always feel sickened to our very core, when we hear someone calling for the spilling of the blood of their political foes. No matter how morally and politically reprehensible we may find certain political ideologies to be, murder is not the Jewish way to go, be it in Israel, or in America.

It’s time to let go of murderous hate. We may vehemently disagree with each other, and even feel morally repulsed by the political ideologies and moral bankruptcy of people and groups which we politically disagree with, but one thing still stands eternally binding and sacred – the divine prohibition against shedding blood, as expressed in the sixth of the Ten Commandments which God Almighty gave us and all of humanity on Mount Sinai, namely – “You shall not murder.”

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Hatima Tovah,
Rabbi Sessler

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