Cannot be Postponed

It’s a common, human tendency to procrastinate. We’re busy people, with a tight schedule, and we can’t simply stop everything to take care of new things that come up. Life pushes us to continue with our routine, and in our daily race, sometimes without even noticing, we push aside the things that are truly important and need our attention.

What is interesting is that the fast of the 10th of Tevet, which falls out in the middle of the winter, has a special status in Jewish law. Early sources cite that this is the only fast that defers Shabbat, and must be observed even if it falls out on the holiest day of the week. Practically, according to our calendar, this possibility cannot happen, and the 10th of Tevet will never fall out on Shabbat. But the theoretical law arouses a serious question.

Out of all of the fast days, it seems that the events that we mark on the 10th of Tevet are the least severe, and it is not very clear why we even observe it. On the 9th of Av, the Temple was destroyed. This is definitely an important day to observe in mourning, as the Temple symbolizes the center of our national and spiritual life, and it went up in flames. On the 17th of Tammuz, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were breached, and it is very understandable why the breaching of the walls reflects a significant step on the way to destruction. On Tzom Gedaliah, we mark the death of Gedaliah ben Achikam; at the time of his death, the remaining Jews in the Land of Israel were exiled and the last hope of reestablishing our independence faded away.

What is it about the 10th of Tevet that cannot be postponed, not even by one day – a law that does not even exist regarding the 9th of Av?!
This is the day when the siege on Jerusalem began, led by Nevuchadnezar, king of Babylon. Only a year and a half later, the Babylonians breached the walls and destroyed the city and the Temple.

Why, if so, was a fast declared on this date, when nothing essentially happened yet?! Why is the beginning of the siege such a formative event that we must remember, if at this point, there was no tangible expression of the tragedy that would befall Jerusalem later on?

It turns out that this is exactly the point. The law about not deferring the 10th of Tevet even if it falls out on Shabbat is learned from the fact that the prophet Yechezkel was asked to write down the date that the king of Babylon started the siege, and he was told to do so “on this very day.” The matter could not be deferred, not even by one day.

There is an important lesson here. When the Temple was burned and everything destroyed before our eyes, or when the walls were breached and enemy armies flooded in, then everyone already understood that we were facing a big problem…but by then, it was too late. There was nothing we could do. On the other hand, when the events are just developing, we have a tendency to push aside our fears, preferring to stay optimistic and not take the threat seriously.

The fast of the 10th of Tevet teaches us to grasp the downward decline at the beginning, and not to wait until it’s too late. “On this very day,” the moment that the first crack is visible, that’s when we need to point it out and take care of it. When we identify the problem at the beginning, there’s a chance of possibly preventing it from developing.

If we are wise enough to listen to the warning signs, and we don’t defer taking care of the issues to a later time, this could help us build Jerusalem again.
It starts by building the Temple that is in our hearts. Don’t push it off until tomorrow.