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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
From the moment Rosh Hashana is done we hit the ground running, initiating the Ten Days of Repentance by fasting, commemorating the tragic death of Gedaliah ben Achikam.
Although this fast day is observed during this time due to it having occurred historically in this period, there seems to be a more integral connection to these days of repentance.
The Pesikta teaches us that from the 17th of Tammuz there is a sequence of Haftoros read, ‘Three of Punishment, Seven of Consolation, and Two of Repentance’.
The Bais Yosef says the first one of Repentance is the Haftora we read on Tzom Gedaliah, Dirshu Hashem B’Himatzo... The second is that of Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem... which we read on Shabbos Shuva.
The reading of Dirshu and its summons to ‘seek Hashem when He can be found’, is read on every public fast day. But these words have even greater significance during these ten days when G-d avails Himself to us more so than during the rest of the year.
So are the events surrounding Gedaliah’s death merely coincidental to the reading of this passage, or might there be a deeper connection and message in that story that is relevant to this propitious time?
After the destruction of the Temple and the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael by Nevuchadnezzar, Gedaliah was appointed by the Babylonians as governor over the small remnant of Jews who were permitted to remain in the Land. We are told that Yishmael Ben Nesanyah, a descendant of the Davidic House and aspirant to its throne, and his men, plotted to assassinate Gedaliah and his court. Yochanan Ben Kareyach, warns Gedaliah about the death plot but is rebuffed and accused of lying. After the terrible deed was carried out, Yochanan rallies the soldiers, killing Yishmael, avenging the cruel and nationally devastating assassination.
Fearing Babylonian retribution, Yochanan, his men, and the entire nation approach Yirmiyahu, in all sincerity, beseeching him to ask G-d if they should flee to Egypt or can they remain safely in Eretz Yisrael. Yirmiyahu conveys G-d’s words to them, “If you remain in this land, I will build houses for you and not destroy them, I will plant and not uproot because I have regretted the evil I have caused you. Do not fear the Babylonians because I am with you to save you from their hands; and I will grant you mercy and return you to your land!”
Despite this great message of hope, Yochanan Ben Kareyach accuses Yirmiyahu of speaking lies, suggesting he is merely conspiring with the Babylonians to kill them and exile them to Bavel.
They immediately depart to Egypt, ending the last remaining true presence of Jews in their land.
Years later during political upheaval in Egypt, Nevuchadnezzar took advantage and invaded and destroyed the land, with most of the Jewish refugees perishing in the war.
Three tragic figures are displayed before for us.
The pious Gedaliah, whose unbalanced pursuit of piety prevented him from appropriately suspecting Yishmael, and act accordingly in protecting himself.
The murderous Yishmael, spurred by his jealousy over Gedaliah’s appointment in place of the more worthy descendant of David.
The loyal Yochanan, who swiftly brought justice to Yishmael, yet could not be swayed from his presumption that the Babylonians could be trusted, despite the assurance of the great prophet who spoke in the name of G-d.
Maimonides writes that with this tragedy the גחלת ישראל, last Jewish ember in Eretz Yisrael, was extinguished, leaving the land bereft of any Jewish presence.
The multiple errors altered history forever.
There are three impediments to initiating a personal program of Teshuva.
One relates to one’s obligation to G-d. The second to interpersonal relationships. The third to our responsibility to ourselves.
Firstly, one must be convinced that what he did is wrong.
The Mesilas Yeshorim elaborates on the principle of Mishkal HaChasidus, balancing piety, utilizing Gedaliah as an example of one whose piety was misplaced. He writes how ‘the inclination can convince one that good things are bad, and sins are actually mitzvos.’
One must realize that serving G-d requires honesty, precision and trust in carrying out G-d’s will without any taint of self-interest.
We approximate that we have it right, satisfying ourselves that we — more or less — got it right, and convincing ourselves that it is sufficient.
In areas pertaining to our responsibility towards others, we must accept that even subtle character flaws that do not seem to impinge on how we act towards others, can fester and grow, building up resentment that bring us to reactions as far reaching as murder.
Lastly, we must acknowledge the need to transform not only our actions, but our attitudes we stubbornly refuse to let go of, out of convenience and comfort. We get stuck on what we believe is correct refusing to shed the many premises we blindly accept as dogma and truth.
Gedaliah’s imprecision — Yishmael’s fatal flaw of jealousy — Yochanan’s refusal to alter his preconceptions, extinguished any possibility of rebuilding the land and sparking its hopes.
The Haftorah of Dirshu summons us: To seek Hashem... not ourselves — Let the wicked one forsake his way... not simply to refrain from the action but more importantly his ‘way’, his flawed character, — and the iniquitous man, his thoughts... to shirk our misguided and biased presumptions.
Rav Moshe Dovid Valli points out that image of a burning coal, a גחלת, a coal, is used to represent the last vestige of hope, because it is numerically equivalent to the word אמת, truth.
Until we are ready to accept an unbiased truth, willing to admit how vulnerable we truly are, and commit to a truth beyond human perception — the process of Teshuva has no fertile ground to grow on.
If we do not act swiftly, the ember will extinguish, altering our destiny.
אם לא עכשיו אימתי — If not now, when?
Return, O Israel, to Hashem, your G-d...
גמר חתימה טובה,
צבי יהודה טייכמאן