Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
Jewish history contains many lessons – even in modern times. Today, we live a delicate balance trying to stay connected to our past while continuing to thrive in modern times. The depth of meaning behind the rituals we observe are as important as the actions themselves.
On the day after Rosh Hashanah, we embark upon a minor fast known as the Fast of Gedalia. It is minor only in the sense that it begins at dawn and ends at dusk, but it is a fast of utmost importance.
After Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple, most of the inhabitants had been killed. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedalia to govern the small group of remaining Jews. Many Jews who had previously fled the country returned.
Gedalia was selected as a leader because he was somewhat submissive to the rule of Nebuchadnezzar. Gedalia was a realistic guide to the Jewish people, and he did what was necessary to ensure a normal life for his people.
The king of Ammon, a man named Belis, was threatened by the Jewish people’s loyalty to Babylonia. Belis persuaded a jealous man named Yishmael to kill Gedalia. Yishmael was the descendant of a royal family, and he was angry that Gedalia had been chosen as Governor.
Yishmael killed Gedalia who refused to listen to the warnings that were shared with him. Yishmael also killed many other Jews and Babylonians. The remaining Jews consulted the Prophet Jeremiah as to what they should do. Jeremiah told them to remain in Eretz Yisrael, but they did not heed his advice. Instead, they fled – kidnapping Jeremiah and taking him with them – to Egypt.
Our sages have declared the third day of the month of Tishrei as a fast day. In the Talmud we are told that the death of a righteous person is equal to that of the destruction of the Holy Temple.
While the Jewish people have seen many righteous people die in our days, after the death of Gedalia, the Land of Israel was devoid of Jews. Israel remained without Her Jewish people until the rebuilding of the second Holy Temple (Bait Hamikdash).
It is quite fitting that the Fast of Gedalia (Tzom Gedalia) takes place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days of the year. After two days of praying for another year of life – and a happy and healthy one at that – we have a day of suffering.
The lesson within this fast is clear. When things seem hopeless, cling to G-d. That is the time to put your faith in G-d. We cannot call upon G-d and praise G-d only when the world seems to be going our way. The Fast of Gedalia provides insight into man’s relationship with G-d. Seize the seriousness of this day.