Today is Asara B’Teves, one of the minor fast days on the Jewish calendar. Chazal tell us that this day, however, is anything but “minor.” While today’s date is a calamitous one, it’s an amalgamation by the rabbis of three straight days of sadness. On the 8th of Teves, the Septuagint was brought about and the Torah was translated into Greek. On the 9th, Ezra HaSofer passed away. Finally, the culmination of these three days of pain is on the 10th day of the month, when the siege of Jerusalem began, which ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe would use this day as a time for inspiration and soul-searching as an impetus for teshuvah. One possible way to do this is through Torah study. Rav Shalom Rosner quotes Rav Mattisyahu Salomon that the events that we mark on Asara B’Teves all moments that weakened us spiritually. The translation of the Torah into Greek made our holiest text lose its luster. It may have been a miraculous event that when the 72 elders were placed into different chambers, through Divine inspiration they were able to all create identical translations. Nevertheless, there are many times when even the most talented rendering leaves much to be desired from the original text. Similarly, the passing of Ezra HaSofer was another hit. He was a tremendous prophet who brought thousands of Klal Yisrael back to Jerusalem. Lastly, when it comes to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, one does not need to delve too deeply to uncover the deep pain that was borne out of this event.
Although it’s one of the four minor fast days that exist on our calendar, Asara B’Teves is unique. Our sages (Beis Yosef and Abudraham) teach that it’s different in nature and the most stringent of the four. This is evident by the fact that it’s the only fast day that occurs on Erev Shabbos and is not pushed off to a different day. Although it cannot fall on Shabbos, Abudraham notes that if it did, we would indeed have to fast. He proves this by comparing Asara B’Teves to Yom Kippur since in relation to the two fasts, the same word “B’Etzem, on that very day” is mentioned. When Yom Kippur occurs on Shabbos, we indeed fast. Additionally, Abudraham’s notion is buttressed by the attribution of this day as the beginning of the catastrophic events that would eventually befall the Jewish people with the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. It was the beginning of the end.
Yet, if we take the above message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to heart, this day could be the catalyst once again for “the beginning of the end.” The end of our suffering in exile, that is. A taanis is a reminder to us that there is something wrong in the world, even if it happened many generations ago. It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on our role in bringing about the redemption of the Jewish people. We cannot do it by ourselves, but the light that we bring into the world through our actions can be momentous.
May we speedily see the day when the 10th of Teves is no longer marked as a somber day on our calendar.