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Tzom Gedalia 5771

Sep 12, 2010 by Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Never Trust a Canaani - 5771


On the ninth day of Av of the year 3338, the Babylonian king, Nevuchadnezer destroyed the Beis HaMikdash. He exiled the scholars, the nobility, and the common folk. The lowest elements of our people were allowed to remain behind. The king appointed a Jewish governor over this remnant. He was cruelly assassinated in a seeming fit of jealousy. The remnant fled to Egypt against the explicit prophecy of Yirmiyahu and there they ultimately perished. (1)


The prophet Zecharya groups the Fast of Gedalia among those mourning the destruction, Asara BiTeves, Shiva Asar BiTammuz, and Tisha B’Av. (2) The gemara comments on this grouping – The words “Tzom HaShvi’i” (fast of the seventh month) refer to the third day of Tishrei when Gedalia was assassinated. Who killed him? Yishmael ben Nesania killed him. To teach us that the death of tzaddikim is likened to the burning of the House of the Lord. (3)



It is inferred from the words of the gemora that the fast was instituted to mourn the death of the tzaddik, Gedalia. Why is he singled out for this distinction? Why isn’t a fast ordained for the death of any and all tzaddikim? (4)


What is notable about Gedalia that his death serves to highlight the link between a tzaddik and the Beis HaMikdash?


Is it mere happenstance that Tzom Gedalia coincides with the day following Rosh Hashana?


Why did the gemora find it necessary to query, “Who killed him?” What need is there to mention this at this point? (5)


Background/Deeper Understanding


Who was Gedalia? Gedalia was a unifier. It was not merely by the fancy of the Babylonian ruler that Gedalia was appointed. He was uniquely suited for the role. He possessed the trait of the Davidic monarchs, who the Rambam refers to as the heart of all of Israel. (6) Each and every individual found a place in his heart. The concern of a Jewish ruler is not self-serving; rather it is full knowledge of one’s subjects in order to guide them in actualizing their individual potential, and forging them with one another into one harmonious group. He views himself as the channel of all of Hashem’s goodness and blessing. Through him, Hashem’s benevolence spreads to the people.


It is perhaps this quality that served to be his undoing. His aid and confidante, Yochanan ben Kare’ach warned him of the impending assassination plot. He refused to believe him, calling him a liar. That a member of the unit, who functioned under his governance, would be capable of destroying that very union was inconceivable. For they are all one. Perhaps Gedalia was unaware of Yishmael's origins, which we will soon see.


Rav Yonason Eibeshutz points out an apparent contradiction in the scripture. In Melachim II the Torah refers to the exile as “Vayagel Yehudah” – and Judah went into exile. The word “Vayagel” is in the masculine form. In the Book of Eichah, the Torah says, “Galsah Yehuda” – “Galsah” being in the feminine form.


The posuk in Melachim refers to the period of Gedalia’s rule. Although the Jewish nation was a conquered one, their holy places destroyed, and the bulk of the nation in exile, the attention of Hashem was still focused on the Land of Israel. He directed his blessing upon His land. All other lands and their peoples shared in this benevolence due to their connection with Eretz Yisroel.  If Eretz Yisroel and its peoples had need of them, they were blessed as well. This was solely due to the presence of Gedalia. By virtue of his constant connection with Hashem and simultaneously with His people, he was the bridge between heaven and earth. He was the Beis HaMikdash in human form. The people were his “service”, and he saw the point of light within each one, bringing together as one in the service of their “Temple”. Thus, the word “Vayagel” is in masculine form. The outpouring of life force from the Creator was channeled through Gedalia to the rest of the world, in the same manner that a husband is mashpia, pours forth his blessing upon his wife.


The passage in Eichah is post-Gedalia. He has been violently cut of from his nation. There is no longer a direct connection between those living in Eretz Yisroel and the Creator. Hashem, then, sustains the world in general, and the Jewish nation ends up on the receiving end, lapping up the crumbs cast off by the nations of the world. They likened to a female, who must receive from her husband in order to bring life into being. (7)


Perhaps we may gain a grain of understanding in the fatal decision of the settlement to defy the words of the prophet Yirmiyahu. They deemed themselves incapable of remaining in Eretz Yisroel without the presence of their Beis HaMikdash, Gedalia.


The Talmud Yerushalmi enlightens us as to the antecedents of the assassin, Yishmael ben Nesania. (8)


It was the practice of the gentile kings to send forth their daughters in battle to distract the enemy soldiers. A Jewish soldier, by the name of Yerachmiel, was caught up in this scheme, and took for himself a gentile princess as his wife (after converting her according to the laws of Eishes Yefas To’ar). She was the daughter of royalty; hence he named her Atarah, for he crowned himself by joining with her. Her intents were impure and so were her origins. She passed down this taint to her descendants. Her murderous “genes” emerged twenty-four generations down the line, in her great grandchild, Yishmael ben Nesania.




Gedalia was THE tzaddik. He was the sole cause of Hashem’s continued personal interest in Eretz Yisroel at the time. It is for this reason that his death is literally the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Gedalia, in his lifetime, was the only remnant of the connection forged by the Beis HaMikdash. The Rambam calls him “the burning coal.” (9) Just as a smothered fire can be brought back to life by a solitary remaining coal, so too, the Beis Hamikdash was not totally consumed as long as Gedalia lived. His death is worthy of a fast day.


The king of Ammon sent a worthy agent to eliminate Gedalia. His intended target was not Gedalia as the leader of the Jewish settlement, but Gedalia, the one who joined shamayim and aretz (heaven and earth). The battle between the Kings of Canaan and the representatives of Hashem’s will is an ongoing one. They Canaanite kings resist G-d’s active role in creation. They are dedicated to squashing it and smothering it. They acted through their “worthy” descendant, Yishmael, to eliminate Gedalia and supplant him. Yishmael, the scion of the Canaanite kings would rule in Gedalia’s stead and would fashion the Land of Canaan in his image, an image that did not include G-d. They sought to alter Klal Yisroel’s role from that of a zachor (male/provider) to that of a nekeiva (female/receiver).


The clash between Gedalia and Yishmael mirrors the war waged between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the powers of impurity (kochos hatumah) that seek to frustrate Hashem’s role in creation. The struggle over which will be the dominant and which will be the submissive.


And so, it is highly appropriate that Tzom Gedalia “happens” to fall out on the day following Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana, and the period following it, is the day of Hashem’s coronation.


On Tzom Gedalia we mourn the loss of what we once had, the presence of one such as Gedalia, who served as a living example that we are the children of a loving king, who created us, loves us, provides for all our needs, and has our best interests at heart.


(1) Yirmiyah, perek 40

(2) Zecharya, Perek 8, Posuk 9

(3) Meseches Rosh Hashana, 18b

(4) Maharsha

(5) Toldos Yaakov Yosef

(6) Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, perek 3, halacha 6

(7) Medrash Eichah, parshah 1, piska 28/ Yaaros HaDevash, chelek 1, drush 10

(8) Rashi & Radak, Divrei Hayamim 1, perek 2, posuk 26

(9) Rambam, Hilchos Taanis, perek 5, halacha 2 

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