Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Tzom Gedaliah - the fast of excess

Tzom Gedaliah is observed on the third of Tishrei, immediately after Rosh Hashana. The RMLBY suggests that the fast is a tikun (a repair) for excess. After the Babylonians conquered the kingdom of Judah and destroyed the first Temple, they appointed Gedaliah, a Jew, as the governor of Judah. At that time the Babylonians did not exile masses of the people, although many of the priesthood and the nobility were moved to Bavel. Gedaliah ruled well, and many Jews who had fled the advancing armies of Bavel returned. Despite the lenient treatment of Judah, Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama, of the royal family of Judah was angry that Gedaliah was co-operating with the Babylonians. Out of excessive zealotry and patriotism, he assassinated Gedaliah. The Babylonians appointed a new, Babylonian governor, exiled many more people, and left the land desolate. Gedaliah too displayed excess. He was warned in advance of the assassination attempt. Because there was no direct evidence, he decided it was lashon hara. Since we are forbidden to believe or act upon lashon hara, he took no special precautions when the assassins came, which undoubtedly facilitated his murder. It is possible for us to take Rosh Hashanah to excess as well. The most frequent form of excess is lavish meals where the focus is on the pleasures of eating. It is good to feast on Rosh Hashanah, but we should use the feast to remind us of the bounty that Hashem gives us, the skills of those who composed the recipies, and the labor of those who cooked and served the meal. Another possible form of excess on Rosh Hashanah is to pay too much attention to the symbolic aspects (don't eat food with nuts, various foods served as signs for a good year, etc.) while not focusing on the actual point of the day - Hashem's kingship and our own need to look into ourselves and find ways to improve ourselves.