For the week ending 7 January 2006 / 7 Tevet 5766

Israel Under Siege?!

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Become a Supporter Library Library

The fear of nuclear weapons in the hands of Muslim fanatics in Iran casts a dark shadow on Israel’s security. It raises a specter of siege so frighteningly familiar to Jews throughout history.

On Tuesday, January 10, the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, we recall the saddest siege of our history, the one that took place two and a half millennia ago. Each year, on the day when there began the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army led by Nebuzraden, Jews throughout the world fast. Since that two-year long siege culminated in the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Beit Hamikdash, the day it was initiated is one of the four days of fasting decreed by our Sages as expressions of mourning for the loss of our sacred Temple.

Dare we compare this siege of yesteryear with the siege of today?

After all, we have no enemy today preventing us from going outside our cities and bringing supplies into them, the usual features of a siege which inevitably trigger hunger and hysteria. And yet the current siege contains an element far more frightening than all the sieges of the past. When the Babylonians laid siege to Yerushalayim, or the Assyrians before them and the Romans after them, there always existed the option of a negotiated surrender. Every student of the Prophets is aware of the debate that raged within the Jewish community of Yerushalayim over whether to surrender to the enemy. Every student of the Talmud and Jewish history is familiar with the sharp conflict between Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and the zealots over whether to negotiate with the Romans besieging Yerushalayim.

In regard to the siege represented by the nuclear threat of Iran, there is no such option. The president of that country repeatedly denies that there was a Holocaust while he prepares to, Heaven forbid, perpetrate a holocaust of his own by developing nuclear weapons to destroy the Jewish state which he arrogantly declares “should be wiped off the map.”

What we must ask ourselves as we reflect upon the siege of Yerushalayim while fasting on the Tenth of Tevet is why our people have been subjected to so many sieges in the past – and in the present.

In his introduction to the Laws of Fasting, Rambam explains that the purpose of the fast days decreed by our Sages is to “arouse our hearts and to open the way to repentance. These fasts will focus our attention on our evil ways and those of our ancestors who had similar evil ways, which brought upon them and us the tragedies we recall.”

Denying ourselves food and drink is a means of starving the body to feed the soul. This spirituality enables us to carefully study the history of our people’s tragedies so that we shall not have to repeat them.

Every Heavenly punishment is inflicted “midah keneged midah” – the punishment fits the crime. May we then suggest that since the nature of a siege is to restrict the movement and activity of the besieged, we have suffered sieges as a result of failing to restrict our movements and activities in accordance with the Will of G-d.

It is a pity that the vast majority of our people today do not fast on the Tenth of Tevet nor are they even aware that such a fast exists. If those who do fast are truly aroused to repentance, perhaps they will also be aroused to reaching out to the rest and thus save our people in Israel from the Iranian siege which threatens them.

Mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash is an expression of our profound desire to see it rebuilt. May our fasting and mourning on this Tenth of Tevet achieve an end to all the sieges we have suffered and bring closer the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the Beit Hamikdash very soon. Amen.

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