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Asara BiTeves

Oct 21, 2009 by Rabbi Pesach Siegel

The tenth of Teves marks the day when Nevuchadnezer came with his hosts and surrounded the city of Yerushalayim. It is the beginning of the war which culminated in the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. (1)

   The Avudraham is quoted concerning a unique status that Asara BiTeves possesses. Were it to be possible for Asara BiTeves to fall on a Shabbos, the fast day would actually be observed on Shabbos. This in marked contrast with all other fast days of Rabbinic origin. (This halacha remains in the domain of theory for nowadays Asara BiTeves may never fall on a Shabbos). The source provided for this halacha is the passage in Yechezkel, "Es etzem hayom hazeh samoch melech Bavel el Yerushalayim". (2) These very same words are used to describe Yom HaKippurim. (3) There is to be no substitute. The fast day is to be observed on this day and only on this day. (4)


   Tisha B'av, the actual day of the destruction, may be pushed off to Yom Rishon in the event that it falls on Shabbos. The observance of Shabbos takes precedence over that of Tisha B'Av. Why is this not true by Asara BiTeves as well. Furthermore, what is the comparison that is made between Asara BiTeves and Yom Kippurim? It seems that this is what lies at the heart of the matter.


   The Gemorah relates that on the tenth of Teves "Samoch melech bavel el ir Yerushalayim" - The king of Bavel laid siege to the city of Yerushalayim. (5) One lays a siege by encircling the city, cutting it off totally from it's source of life sustaining nourishment. The city is effectively dead. It has no mortal way of surviving. It's just a matter of time, of waiting it out, until the inhabitants of the city succumb to starvation. Victory is assured.  And starve they did. The Medrash relays to us the horrors of death by starvation. (6)


   But they held out. They stood their ground and stayed enclosed within the city. The enemy armed with catapults, launched boulders at the city walls. They were miraculously caught by a warrior, Avika son of Gevirti, who caught them in his arms and threw them back against the enemy. When his arms did  not suffice, he used his legs.


   This continued for almost three years. The stark contrast stands out. The destruction wreaked by hunger and starvation, from being totally cut off, and the miracles that they were blessed with on a daily basis.


   Why? Chazal tell us, Hashem granted time to the inhabitants of Yerushalayim to repent from their ways and  come back to Him. (7) For three years the Bnei Yisroel existed within a circle, cut off totally from the world of Olam Hazeh. It wasn't pleasant, it was pain filled, but it was an opportunity. For one who exists within the confines of this mundane world it is death with finality. No food, no hope, no way of breaking through. Simultaneously, Hashem showed them open miracles. They are not to be confined by the laws of time and space. They possess the ability to transcend this world.


   In the blessings following the reading of the Haftorah we say, "Rachem al tzion ke he bais chayenu", "Have compassion on the Bais Hamikdash for it is our source of life."  The Bnei Yisroel were effectively separated from the evil influence of the outside world, in their hunger their internal desires were waning. Hashem was granting them the opportunity to embrace the true source of life, to be alone with Him and only with Him.


   It was the supreme test.  The day of Asara BiTeves was one that the encircled ones could rise to the greatest of heights. They are cut off from the world, they are cut off from the physical world but they are together with the Bais HaMikdash, the place Hashem chooses to rest his Shechinah within. They are not cut off from life, they are embracing life. Or they could fall, and envision themselves as the walking dead, a self fulfilling prophecy.


   The number ten, according  to the holy words of Chazal, denotes sanctity. (8) The day of the siege was intentionally chosen. If one wants to totally break his enemy, he does so at the strongest point in his defenses. That ensures a total victory, there is no hope for the defeated forces to regroup and fight another day. Asara BiTeves is the tenth day of the tenth month, a special day where the attainment of total kedusha is possible, but also a day where total defeat is a possibility. (9)


   In this light there emerges a parallel between Asara BiTeves and Yom Kippurim. Yom Kippurim is a day that we lift ourselves up from our surroundings and for 24 hours stand "Lifnei Hashem", in front of Hashem. We are enjoined not to enjoy any physical sensation or  to ingest anything from the physical world. (10) Yom Kippurim is also on the tenth day.


    The tragedies that followed were direct consequences of being cut off from life by the siege which took place on Asara BiTeves. Had Klal Yisroel taken full advantage of the opportunity to be totally alone with Hashem, cut off from everything else, they would have experienced a rejuvenation, a "Techiyas HaMesim". This, tragically, not being the case,  the ultimate death that befell us on Tisha B'Av with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash was just the revelation of what had already occurred. It was an outgrowth of the tenth of Teves. (11)


   When we spend the day in fasting and prayer, our task and goal is to rectify the flaws within us that are holding back the resuscitation of  "Bais Chayenu".  By depriving ourselves of physical nourishment we are endeavoring to transport ourselves to that very same place the Bnei Yisroel were in at the time of  the encirclement of Nevuchanezer. This must be done specifically on the tenth day of the tenth month. It cannot be pushed off, for specifically this day possesses the qualities for such a journey. (12)




(1) Meseches Rosh Hashanah 18b

(2) Yechezkel, perek 24, posuk 2

(3) Vayikra, perek 23, posuk 28

(4) Tur Shulchan Aruch, Beis Yosef, siman 550

(5) The word "samoch" (approach) is used for siege. Perhaps this particular word is used for it resembles the word "samech" which is the letter in the aleph bais resembling a circle.

(6) Pesikta Rabbasi 26

(7) Yalkut Shimoni, Eichah, remez 1009

(8) One cannot say Kaddish or Kiddusha without the presence of ten men, for then the Shechina rests among them - Meseches Brachos 21b. See Vayikra, perek 27, posuk 32 "Veha'asiri yiheye kodesh"

(9) Maharal, Sefer Hanetzach, perek 8

(10) Shalah, Asara Hillulim

(11) Yaaros HaDevash, chelek 1, drush 2

(12) See Yaaros HaDevash, chelek 2, drush 2. According to his calculations, Asara BiTeves took place that year on a Shabbos.


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