10th of Tevet

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By Reuven Spero

New Years Day this year corresponded with the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tevet, marked on the Jewish calendar as a minor fast day.  

What does this mean?

There are three days of the yearly cycle that are fast days connected with commemorating (using memory) the destruction of the 1st and 2nd temples that once stood in Jerusalem.  Today, the 10th of Tevet, marks the day when, in 589 BCE, the Babylonians began their siege on the wall of Jerusalem.  Three years later, on the 19 of Tammuz (usually in early/mid July), the Babylonians broke through the walls of Jerusalem, presaging the end.  Finally, on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’av), the Bablyonians completed their conquest of Jerusalem and burnt the First Temple.  Around 650 years later, the Romans will do the same on the same date to the Second Temple.   The first two events are marked with minor fasts – from dawn to the beginning of nighttime – while the last one, Tisha B’av, is a full 25 hour fast, the only day of pure sadness on the Jewish calendar. 

So what is the special character or significance of this day?  

It is the beginning of the process of destruction. I think it is clear that the beginning of a process is the most powerful stage.  It takes us from the dramatic transition of not this situation, but that one: not free, but besieged; not peace, but at war.  It is the step that allows development into subsequent steps.  In a sense, it contains all steps with it, and the end as well.

That might be why this fast day is mentioned in the book of Zechariah (8:19), as he proclaims all the fast days eventually will turn into days of feasting.  He was reminded of the cyclical nature of time, and how destruction will again one day be the foundation for renewal.   The recent days of Hannuka reminded us of how just a spark of light can overcome great darkness, and now, only a few days later, we mark the beginning of the process of destruction, which Zechariah sees as the beginning of the process of renewal.

Our group (NSW BJE of Australia) just came back from an extended trip in the Negev, the southern desert.  There, in a place that is called Hazeva, a place so dry and infertile that the region is identified with the area of Sdom, land destroyed by fire and brimstone, of no scarcely no water resources, with land so salty that to grow anything, dirt from elsewhere must be brought in by truckload, there in Hazeva, they are bringing the area back to Biblical description before the area was ravaged: “like the garden of Hashem, like the land of Egypt." 

In this environment so seemingly hostile to any growth, they produce 60% of Israel’s export quality fruits and vegetables.  By utilizing imported soil, hothouses and advanced irrigation methods, we can use the desert to produce out of season fruits and vegetables.  It perhaps is the first step in fulfilling the Zionist dream of making the desert bloom.  And as we learned, first steps are the most powerful, containing within them seeds of fulfillment.

May we merit seeing all fast days, all sad days, turned in celebrations!

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