5.01 THE TEN DAYS OF TESHUVA: UNDERSTANDING THE FAST OF GEDALIA
One of the most difficult aspects to understand about the Ten Days of Teshuva is the Fast of Gedalia (Tsom Gedalia). Right in the middle of working very hard on ourselves and growing and focusing on the issues of Tishrei, the Fast of Gedalia is suddenly thrown in. And we all have asked ourselves, what is this doing here now, in Tishrei when we are working on the issues of the High Holy Days? What is the connection between the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the Ten Days of Teshuva? The purpose of this sheet is to answer these perplexing questions and focus us to the issues that we should be concentrating during this very important fast day.
THE STORY OF TSOM GEDALIA
After the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the majority of the Jewish People to Babylon, the wrath of the conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar, abated. He displayed a gentler attitude to the Jews and allowed some of them to remain in the Land of Israel. He even appointed a Jewish governor as their leader. His name was Gedalia, the son of Achikam. When this became known, Jews who had escaped from the horrors of the war into neighboring countries gradually returned to their towns and homesteads in Yehuda.
Gedalia understood the role that the Jewish People needed to play at this point in history in their relationship to the nations of the world. He understood that they needed to be obedient to the nations where G-d had delivered them. He understood that G-d inclines the hearts of kings to any direction that He wants and the Jewish People therefore had nothing to fear if they did what was right.
But ‘the remnant of Israel’ that stayed behind could not yield to G-d’s plans. Yishmael, the son of Netaniah, spurred on by jealousy and foreign influence, arose .and ignored the will of the King of Babylon. He treacherously killed Gedalia and most of the Jews and Babylonians that were around him. The day that this occurred was the third day of Tishrei, fifty-two days after the appointment of Gedalia, shortly after the Al-mighty had started bringing some rest from their suffering to the remnant of Yehuda.
In the aftermath of Gedalia’s murder, the remaining Jews’ spirits had sunk to their lowest level as they dreaded the reprisal of the king of Babylon. They planned to descend to Egypt to save themselves. But Egypt was the most defiled and corrupt of all the nations, and the Jews dreaded going there. So they turned to the Prophet Yermiahu, who was secluded in mourning, to ask for advice. For forty years they had not listened to the Prophet’s warnings, and now they stood before him shame-faced like a thief who was caught. ‘We will now listen to all that G-d will tell us,” they promised.
Yermiahu now tried to communicate with the Al-mighty but a partition of iron seemed to separate him from Hashem. G-d did riot seem to be responding to the plea of the Jewish People who now wanted to do teshuva. They turned to Him during the Ten Days of Teshuva, but they soon realized that Hashem was still angry with them.
Finally, on Yom Kippur, the Jewish People were forgiven. After many days of waiting, Yermiahu called in the leaders and told them that everything would be okay. In the near future, Hashem would make Babylonia act mercifully towards the Jewish People and He would return them and all their exiled brothers to their own soil. But if they decided to go to Egypt, the sword from which they were running would kill them there.
The Prophet’s words did not penetrate their ears and hearts and they refused to believe. They just could not believe that G-d would allow them to live in the Land after everything that had occurred. The generals gathered the whole remnant of the Jewish People and went down to Egypt. Thus they caused the the banishment from the Land to become complete and final.
Just a few years later, Babylon conquered Egypt and the exiles from Yehuda were completely wiped out by the sword. They fell and died by the thousands and tens of thousands. Not a survivor was left out of the whole remnant of the exiles with the exception of Yermiahu (who was kidnapped by the generals) and some of his disciples. Yermiahu’s prophecy had become painfully true.
The murder of Gedalia ben Achikam extinguished the last spark of hope for a renewal of Jewish life in the Holy Land. Now the destruction had become complete. Within seven years, the Land turned into a barren desert. For fifty-two years all living creatures shunned it.
The day Gedalia was killed has been likened to the day when the Temple was destroyed because it caused the end of Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel for many years. The prophets declared that the anniversary of the tragedy should be a day of fasting. Thus, this day became a memorial to the murder of the righteous governor and the end of a Jewish precense in Yehuda. (Based on Toldas Am Olam, Horeb, and The Art-scroll History Series)
THE LESSONS WE LEARN FROM THE FAST OF GEDALIA
1. During the Ten Days of Teshuva we must realize that no matter how much we have transgressed. Hashem accepts our teshuva.
The Jewish People had sunk to one of the lowest levels ever in their history. Their Temple was destroyed, the majority of the Jewish People were exiled, and things looked hopeless. Finally, G-d decided to grant them mercy and change their desperate situation. By having Gedalia, a righteous man appointed, it looked as if the whole situation would radically improve. But things sunk even lower. Gedalia was murdered by a Jew and all hope was wiped out. At this point when the Jewish people were at their lowest level, they decided to do teshuva. This was during the Ten Days of Teshuva. Even at the height of His anger, Hashem relented and on Yom Kippur granted them forgiveness.
The fact that this story is memorialized during the Ten Days of Teshuva is no accident. It is to teach us the message of these days: Return no matter how far you are away and Hashem will forgive you.
2. There is an intimate connection between the Ten Days of Teshuva and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash
The story of Gedalia is one of the saddest of the whole epoch of the destruction of the First Temple. It is so painful to hear about the opportunities to return that the Jewish People lost again and again. When we hear that a Jew murdered so many people, we are stunned and shocked.
The purpose of this day of remembrance is to get us to mourn the destruction of the Temple and the low level we descended to. By hearing this story, this will hopefully bring us to do teshuva on all our sins and bring back the Presence of G-d which we so desperately need.
How can I narrate the disaster when my sighing is so heavy. My soul is weary. My congregations are grieving. Our few remnants who have escaped the flames, even they could not stand firm and were scattered in wrath. How long still will You hide Your countenance from us? Hear our cry and loosen our bound ones. (Selichos of Tsom Gedalia)
During the Ten Days of Teshuva, when the opportunities to return to Hashem are the highest, we should mourn how far away from the Al-mighty we are, and this realization should bring us to teshuva.
3.Doing teshuva means submitting to G-d’s will at all times not iust when it agrees with what you want
Doing teshuva does not mean that you will listen to G-d only when you want.
The Jews who remained alive (after Gedalia’s murder), although not of such a wicked nature, still shared a deep-rooted tendency not to submit to G-d’s guidance. Although they were robbed of all outer independence, they still wanted to establish their affairs upon a basis of human independence and not G-dly dependence.
This became manifest again in the opposition to G-d’s command to wait for the clemency of Nebuchadnezzar. Their downfall was the result of their folly which would recognize as G-d’s will only that which coincided with their own. (Based on Horeb, R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, P. 144.)
This is another message for the Ten Days of Teshuva. Return to G-d in a real way in which you truly submit to His will no matter what. The leaders who went to Yermiahu to ask what to do only went because they were subconsciously sure that G-d would answer the way that they wanted Him to answer. When G-d didn’t answer the way they wanted Him to, they rebelled. It is very important during the Ten Days of Teshuva to ask yourself the question, am I submitting to G-d’s will only in the areas that I want or am I submitting even in areas that are not so comfortable for me?
4.During the Ten Days of Teshuva is the time to realize that not listening to G-d always leads to negative results
The leaders thought that it was impossible to stay in the Land and survive. Yermiahu told them otherwise. The outcome was that they ignored his advice and not one of them remained alive in the end.
This should be a lesson to us during the Ten Days of Teshuva. Even if all the evidence points in the opposite direction to that which the Torah says, listening to G-d in the end will lead to ultimate reward.
5.During the Ten Days of Teshuva is precisely the time to realize how important it is to be righteous
Many times during the Ten Days of Teshuva we might get discouraged by the difficulties involved in becoming righteous. And we wonder what is the whole teshuva process all worth. The story of the downfall of Gedalia is brought to clear away this confusion.
The Fast of Gedalia is enumerated together with the fast days for the destruction of the Sanctuary “to teach that the death of the righteous is as weighty as the burning of G-d’s house’ (Rosh HaShanah 18b). Years of great effort are needed to build a Sanctuary, and its benefits to the world are immense; but even more effort must be expended to develop a truly righteous man, and his death is an even greater loss than the burning of the Sanctuary. (Torah Nation, Avigdor Miller, p.13)
This information is brought to teach us how valuable it is to try our hardest to do teshuva during this very important time period.
The purpose of this sheet was to help us understand the connection between Tsom Gedalia and The Ten Days of Teshuva. We hope that these insights will help us realize the tremendous opportunity that is offered on this day and let us rise to seize that opportunity.