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Feiglin, Asara B’Teiveth, and Refusing to Heed

January 15, 2015

Earlier I wrote about how I was unusually anxious this past fast day. The nights before and and after the fast were short on sleep, and I only realized why once Shabbos started. Before Shabbos, when the hectic Friday atmosphere prevented me from seriously thinking, I was concerned about the (in retrospect) trivial Likud Party primary elections. As a member of the party and someone sympathetic to many but not all of Feiglin’s causes, I had a lot riding on the outcomes. The starvation that came with the suspense of constantly checking the updates on the news gave me a surreal, strange, new feeling of worry. I have voted before. For both winners and losers. And unlike the last few Knesset and Presidential elections in which I casted ballots, I felt the most disappointed I have ever felt after one of these exercises in democracy. Why was that? As a marginal member of the Likud in the last Knesset, Feiglin often found himself voting against the members of his own party and the coalition, including other right-wing parties, and had he maintained his spot in the list, it is not hard to imagine that he would have continued on the same path in the next Knesset. As long as Feiglin was no longer running for the chairmanship of the party (he had quit that some weeks before) why did it really matter that Feiglin was no longer likely to be in the Knesset?

What was bothering my subconscious so much?

….

I found the answer I was looking for in the book of Jeremiah. Now, when it comes to the four annual fast days that commemorate events surrounding the destruction of the Temple, (Taanith Esther and Yom Kippur  do not commemorate any misfortunes) Tisha B’av holds center place. Everyone knows about the various tragedies throughout our history coinciding on the ninth of Av, but the other fasts are not as well understood. Whenever Rosh Hashana rolls around, I try to remind whoever I can about why the assassination of Gedaliah, some seven weeks after the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of her people, warrants its own fast day. It is unfortunate that the chapters of Jeremiah that detail all of those events are not studied whatsoever in the Modern-Orthodox day-school system and are not-known to exist in the frummy systems, but the prophets saw those events as being just as tragic and consequential as many of the events that led up to the destruction. Tzom Gedaliah commemorates a day that a Jew murdered a Jew, a tragedy akin to the destruction of the world, but what warranted its historical delineation as an eternal fast was its significance as a turning point in our history. Specifically, had the people heeded the prophet then, the worst could have been avoided. It was true that the Temple had been destroyed, but the land had not, and Nebuchadnezzar had left some Jews in every city to guard the fields and vineyards in order to supply his armies. The Jews still had some militias, and their political leader, Gedaliah, Enjoyed the favor of both the emperor and the prophet, Jeremiah. The seeds of our national recovery had already sprouted, and had the Jews persisted in their obedience to the foreign conquerors, who knows how it could have turned out? But, after Gedaliah was killed, the panicky strongmen who shepherded the remnants of the people feared Nebuchadnezzar’s retribution, and, taking the rest of the people and the prophet, fled to Egypt, disobeying God’s word and abandoning the land. Thus the land lay desolate for decades, bereft of her children and protectors, and the Jews would have to wait until a later despot would grant them the right of return. What makes Tzom Gedaliah tragic is not necessarily the bloodshed, but more the reaction to it.

The same is true for the two fasts which commemorate events which precede the destruction of Jerusalem. Keep in mind that neither the 10th of Teiveth, nor the 17th of Tammuz, nor the third of Tishrei would have been ordained as fasts had the ninth of Av not been. When the Destruction came to pass, the prophets looked back at the events leading up to the Destruction, and discerned that there were two specific days that above all marked points of consequence. That which transpired on the 10th of Teiveth three years before the Destruction, and that which happened three weeks before the Destruction both portended the ultimate downfall of our people. We understand why the 17th of Tammuz was so chosen, and we know that more tragedies would occur on later 10th’s of Teiveth in history, but it is what happened on that particular 10th of Teiveth that year that clinched it. So what happened? The siege of Jerusalem started. The siege that led to the Destruction. But Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem many times, winning every time. Why not mourn the very first time he subdued Jerusalem (II KIngs 24:1), and not when he was just returning to punish a vassal king? Wasn’t that at least as significant an event? Or what about the second time Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, and carried away King Jehoiachin and “all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths” (24:14)?

The answer is that before the final siege, Jeremiah had been warning the people that God had already passed their verdict. They were to be decisively defeated by Babylonia, but had they at least surrendered, as per God’s word, the extent of the defeat would be minimal, and if they would choose to hold out for a victory and continue the fight, they would experience the punishment to the worst extent possible. Most of the people and the decision makers not only did not heed the prophet, they accused him of treason, and had him imprisoned in the harshest conditions. For years. And all those years they knew what he had said. When Nebuchadnezzar finally returned to lay the siege, the people were put on the spot: accept God’s word, or fight. Surrender, or tough it out. Heed and do what was right, or ignore. They chose the latter, and that is why the day was marked forever. It was a point of no return. Asara B’teiveth commemorates our decision to do that which was right in our own eyes, against the clear and explicit warnings of those who knew better.

I have no reason to believe that Moshe Feiglin is a prophet. No one does. However, and this is clear to me and others, he tries as best as possible to make sure that his public decisions and statements stay in line with those beliefs of our prophets, even more so than the unfortunately named rabbinic establishment and the the poltically involved religious types whop profess loyalty to God’s Torah, but then, in no particular order, deny that God wants the Jews to live in the land of Israel, deny that God commanded the Jews to rule the land of Israel, claim that certain commandments used to be applicable but are no longer, claim that for someone inexplicable reason, God no longer wants the Jews to fulfill the commandment of building His Temple, or claim that certain prohibitions of the Torah no longer apply, period. Feiglin has been pressing for the realization of the application of the entire Torah in every facet of our lives. More than any other public figure in the last two decades, Feiglin has stood up for the supremacy of the Torah, and has taught the nation to not only have faith in God, but to act on that faith and the confidence that if we do our part to sanctify His name, He will do His.

It is because Feiglin has decided to stand up for that which is ultimately good that the forces of evil have mustered all they could to oppose him. Feiglin has certainly not failed: as he himself has pointed out recently,  the advent of the reincarnated Jewish Home party is basically what he has been striving for, and if Naftali Bennett gets even more ahead in governmental politics, he has Feiglin to thank for laying the ground work. However, the very fact that the Likud so openly repudiated him a few weeks ago, and that the rest of the country was not so bothered, reminded me of Jeremiah’s plight, specifically that his desperate message was just not wanted, and therefore he was just not wanted. And to me that was a dying shame. Just like I wrote earlier about how I am “sympathetic to many but not all of Feiglin’s causes,” the usual pundits here in Israel, when writing sympathetically about Feiglin have to always make similar disclaimers. No one has enough Jewish pride anymore to say that they actually want to to follow the Torah to the full extent. It’s much easier to pledge allegiance to a watered down, Torah-light ideology espoused by the other political parties, the ones that openly profess a willingness to compromise on halacha because of some passing reasons.

Asara B’teiveth bothered me because history, to a small measure, repeated itself this year when the Jewish people once again decided to not listen to someone who was speaking the truth.

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