11 October 2019

Fast Days and Redemption: What now?

12 Tishrei 5780

I began writing this post after this year's fast of Gedalyahu ben Ahiqam ben Shafan, the appointed governor of Judea (Yehuda, the name our land was called for centuries before it was sacked by the Romans, and our people driven out...) during the rule of Nebuchadnezzar (here called Nebuchadrezzar) of Babylon, who was assassinated by a fellow Jew on Rosh haShana in his palace.  You can find it in Yirmiyahu/Jeremiah 40-43 (starting here, in both voweled Hebrew and English).

Even though Yom haKippurim has now passed, the focus is still on Gedalyahu. (It just takes me too long, and I'm sorry about that! But I didn't want to lose this thought.)

The usual reason given for this fast is because it is a prime example of Jew-on-Jew violence, particularly assassination of leaders. It's a long-standing failing of ours, this sinath hinam between Jews. In this case, leaders and not leader, because all the leadership and others close to Gedalyahu were murdered too.

Parenthetically, the fast of Gedalyahu didn't go so well for me. I suffer from a condition that sometimes gets in the way of such things, particularly after a holiday that mandates that foods that tend to exacerbate it be eaten, even when medicine is taken. That's not why I'm writing this, although the idea came to me during the fast day. In general, I'm not against fasting, if it can be done properly. Thank G-d that Yom haKippurim, which just passed, doesn't require eating foods that, while good for others, are bad for me beforehand. It went much better for me, b"H.

I admit that I was all ready to argue for giving up the fast of Gedalyahu altogether, but I found a reason that stopped me from doing so, right from the pages of my Tana"kh.

What is fasting good for?

The motive is the thing. Are we fasting over what we lost so long ago we can't identify with it, or can we think about what we are missing out on because we set it all aside?

In our day, to awaken the sense of urgency we need to be engaged in petitioning HQB"H for our redemption, I believe our leading rabbis must invoke the Fear Of Missing Out. Although we all experienced this high anxiety as teens, today's younger folks (some of whom I hope I can include among my readers) have a pronounceable acronym for it: FOMO.

I found on what exactly we were missing out further on in Yirmiyah, chapter 42. The people trying to escape the wrath of Nebuchadrezzar after Gedalyahu's murder, on the way to Egypt, turned to the prophet for help.

But, first some background. We don't usually focus on this part of the story, where the poorer people in the Land of Yehuda were left behind during the first part of the destruction of the Jewish Nation, including Yerushalayim and the First Temple, because Nebuchadrezzar didn't want to make the land totally barren; so, while he took the royal family and all the richer people with him to Babylon, he allowed the peasantry to remain in the Land and tend to their fields and crops. At least some of these were among those trying to escape when they heard the bad news.

But what, if anything, does it have to do with us today? 

We should at least examine the question. It leads to an important point that is very relevant to our day.

It was Gedalyahu's murder that brought on Nebuchadrezzar's rage, and spurred on the second part of the destruction of the nation: Catching up to the peasants who had abandoned Yehuda and utterly destroying them, along with the Egyptians, in Mitzrayim.

In our day, we are thinking about true sovereignty in our Land and the Land of our ancestors. The issue was even raised in this most recent election campaign. In this light, in order to make progress in our national self-concept we need to look at whether what happened to Gedalyah should be our focus on the third of Tishrei, or perhaps something else.

After all, Gedalyah was a lackey of Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon — meaning that Babylon was the ruler. He certainly was not focused on having the kingship over the people. All the prosperity that they enjoyed was because of the Babylonian occupation.

But, was his murderer, Ishmael ben Nethanyah, any better? In my opinion, he was not. Even though he was a member of the royal family who was overlooked when Nebuchadrezzar's troops rounded up his relatives, he had an ally and a place to run to outside the kingdom of Israel...the king of Ammon. (Yes, it's the same place where Jordan today has its capital in Amman. And that king was all worried about the prosperity those dang Jews next door were having! Just like the one today.)

Since most of his family was killed in Babylon, including all the king's sons, Ishmael might have been next in line for the throne. I'd have to study further to see whether he was in fact next. I didn't focus on it this time around. My point today is that, whether he was or not, he didn't value the position, or the sovereignty that came with it. When push came to shove, he abandoned the Land for Ammon.

The Missed Opportunity - how was it handled?

The second part would not have happened, if we had not missed out on a very important opportunity, due to fear of everything else except G-d. From Jeremiah 42:10-18:

The Proposal

 And thus it was, as prophet and tzaddiq Yirmiyahu said.

Those who went back to Egypt and their children never came out alive; we can't even say "our ancestors" because they had no living descendants, according to the prediction of pasuk 17. Can we, who in our generation and time have been presented with the opportunity to stay in the Land of Israel no matter what, even think of spurning it again, under any circumstances, even that of losing the Israeli government? Perhaps this is an opportunity to change the system of how we govern ourselves! And then we can redouble our efforts to bring all the Jews home, to the real "land of our ancestors."

What say you, O leading rabbis of our generation?

With all respect, I humbly propose that, since a portion of the People, whose descendants are not even among us, missed out on a golden opportunity to have sovereignty under the protection of none other than the G-d of Israel in the times of Yirmiyahu, we must not lose it again now. Whenever we fast, except for Yom haKippurim, we must think of this prophetic lesson and take it to heart. And, should our government fall completely, we must look to HQB"H for His righteous Mashiah. If He doesn't grant this (which we all doubt to some extent; but on the other hand we've been waiting so long for this that most of us find it out of reach...), we need to find a way to have His government the way He wants it, as He proposed to the peasants of Yehuda back in the day through His prophet Yirmiyahu. That requires the government to promote doing mitzvoth and seeking haShem's will. More below.

(Don't worry. I have a sense of humor, and I know my words will be laughed at. But I'm serious about what I'm saying here.)

Does He bring to birth and not deliver? (Isaiah 66:9)

When the real opportunity comes — DOMO. Don't miss out!


If the above is not enough, here's an interview of R' Mendel Kessin by Tamar Yonah. R' Kessin says that if the Israeli government doesn't promote G-d and Judaism in Israel...well, particularly starting at approximately 18 minutes in, you have to hear what the Rav says.

And...it wouldn't be complete without the interpretations of R' Yitzhak Kaduri's predictions, some of which have now come true.

May my readers, I and all Israel have a great and groundbreaking year of 5780! Shabbat shalom v'Hag Sameah!

A video by R' Sprecher about Shmini Atzeret & Simchat Torah