The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
YHE HOLIDAY: ASARA
Yeshivat Har Etzion
For more sichot on Asara Be-Tevet, see:
loving memory of
Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlomo Moshe HaKohen (whose yahrtzeit falls on 10 Tevet),
bat Yitzchak Dovid
(whose yahrtzeit falls on 15 Tevet),
Shimon ben Moshe (whose yahrtzeit
falls on 16 Tevet).
Your Soul to the Hungry"
Based on a Sicha by Harav Yehuda Amital
Adapted by Shaul Barth
Translated by Kaeren Fish
In chapter 58
of Yishayahu, which we read on Yom Kippur, the
Cry aloud, do
not spare; lift your voice as a shofar and tell My people their sins, and the house of Yaakov their
iniquities. Yet they seek Me daily, wanting to know My
Who is the
prophet talking about? Who are the people who sin, yet nevertheless "seek Me daily, wanting to know My ways"? The Gemara (Bava Metzia 33b) asserts that "My people" here
refers to Torah scholars, with whom God is strict: their mistaken sins are
accounted as intentional sins. Even if we do not have the merits of Torah
scholars, we do have the responsibilities. This prophecy is talking to us.
is being leveled here? The people ask God, "Why have we fasted, but You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, but You have not paid attention?" (verse
3). Why are we beset with problems? God answers via the prophet: "Even on
your fast day you pursue your business" (ibid.) even on the very day of
the fast you are busy with your affairs; "Is such the fast that I choose -
a day when a person is afflicts his soul? Is it to bow his head like a bulrush
and to spread sackcloth and ashes shall you call this a fast, a day of
acceptance to God?" (verse 5). What is the
meaning of a fast? What is the significance of reciting "Avinu Malkenu"? Is this the
sole expression of the fast? Even if we "bow our heads like
bulrushes", even if we stoop low this is not the fast that God desires.
goes on to explain that God demands moral behavior, not only fasting. Twice the
prophet makes mention of giving to the hungry: "Is not this the fast that
I have chosen?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?" (verses 6-7); "If you draw out your soul to the hungry,
and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall your light rise in darkness"
(verse 10). The Gemara (Bava
Batra 9a) tries to define precisely, on the basis
of these verses, how many and what gifts should be given to the poor, and Tosafot raise a difficulty with the calculation there. I
have a simple explanation for the repetition, and if this is all that is
remembered from the sicha, I will be content:
some people are hungry for bread, while others are hungry for attention.
always people around us both within the beit
midrash and outside -
who are hungry for attention; they seek warmth and someone who shows an
interest in them. We must pay attention to them and understand that their need
is real; they feel "hungry" and neglected. The prophet calls on us to
"draw out our souls to the hungry." If some of our fellow students do
not grow in their learning, we must understand why each of us is guilty. We are
all guilty, because if we were to give him sufficient attention, if we were to
invest more in him and in his progress, he would achieve more.
I admit to my
own faults in this regard. There have been students who did not stand out and
excel in the beit midrash, but when they went off into the world of
academia, they attained great fame. What happened? The talent and ability were
there; we did not pay enough attention to enable them to realize their
potential. We still do not know how to distinguish someone with special
potential from someone who lacks it. These people were hungry for attention,
and had we provided it, they would have flourished and attained spectacular
achievements in Torah and fear of heaven.
The chassidic masters, beginning with the Ba'al Shem Tov, taught that
without joy it is impossible to attain anything. Joy is necessary also for
Torah study and for progress in fear of heaven. Joy starts with the sense that
one is not alone, that someone is interested in you. We find ourselves in a
world that is alienated; people spend fortunes on psychologists and what do
they do? They listen!
Unlike us, God
is always listening. "May my speech be sweet to Him; I shall rejoice in
God" (Tehillim 104:34). King David
declares that God loves our prayers just as a mother loves to listen to the
babbling of her infant. A person says that he has no patience to listen to all
kinds of prattling but God loves to listen to us and wants us to talk to Him.
established the fast of the Tenth of Tevet in order to arouse memories, as Rambam explains:
There are days
which are observed by all Israel
as fasts because of the tragic events that occurred on them, the object being
to stir hearts and open the way to repentance, and to remind us of our own evil
for as we remember these things, we ought to repent and do good. (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 5:1)
Let us recall
a point mentioned several times in Tanakh. At the
time of the destruction of the Temple, Israel had reached a low point morally and
culturally; the prophets describe at length all the abominations of Jerusalem. Nevertheless,
a moment of truth arrives at the time of Tzidkiyahu,
and he asks the prophet what is going to happen. The prophet tells him to
surrender to the Babylonians and be saved. We ask ourselves: if the situation
was so bad, how could it help to surrender? But in several places we are told
that Tzidkiyahu had sworn an oath of allegiance to
the king of Babylonia in exchange for his own coronation as king, and that,
moreover, this oath was taken in the name of God (e.g. Yechezkel
17:19 and II Divrei Ha-yamim
36:13). Tzidkiyahu did not abide by this agreement.
He violated his oath by allying himself with Egypt
and rebelling against Nevukhadnetzar, king of Babylonia, thereby causing a great desecration of God's
Even at the
very last moment, Tzidkiyahu could have saved the
situation by keeping his oath, and everything would have changed.
Then said Yirmiyahu unto Tzidkiyahu:
"Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will
go forth unto the king of Babylon's princes, then your soul shall live, and
this city shall not be burned with fire; and you shall live, you, and your
house; but if you will not go forth to the king of Babylon's
princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans,
and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape out of their
hand." (Yirmiyahu 38:17-18)
Yet the king
maintained that he could not heed the prophet's advice, for if he were to
surrender, people inside Jerusalem
would kill him. Tzidkiyahu was no longer afraid of
the king of Babylonia; he was afraid of the men of Jerusalem. At the last moment it becomes
clear that the problem that brought about the destruction was a desecration of
God's Name; this could have been repaired up to the last moment.
bade farewell to our students returning to South Africa. One of them asked me
how it is possible to fulfill the mitzva of tokhecha (literally, "rebuke" directing
people towards behavior in keeping with the commandments and values of the
Torah) outside of Israel.
I told him that there is only one language that is understood everywhere:
sanctification of God's Name. We have no way of speaking to secular Jews, to
the vast body of Jews who have drifted far from Torah, except through personal
example and by sanctifying the Name of God. This is the only language that is
left to us. We cannot scold and castigate; we must rather be models of
integrity, sanctity, and concern for others.
We face many
problems and difficulties. Let this fast not go by without our internalizing the
fact that there are people who are hungry for bread, and there are others who
are hungry for attention and may God help us to help both types.
was delivered on Asara Be-Tevet 5765 .)