The Tenth of Teves and The Lesson of Vermaisa
The Tenth of Teves is unique in that, unlike the other fasts
that are related to the destruction of the Temple, it relates only to the First
Temple. The Ninth of Av marks the destruction of both Temples; likewise, the
Seventeenth of Tammuz concerns the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim in
both Temples. (Tsom Gedalia, which commemorates the assassination of
Gedalia ben Achikam in the period of the First Temple, is an exception, since it
was established to teach that the death of the righteous is comparable to the
destruction of the Temple.)
The Tenth of Teves, however, marks the siege of Yerushalayim
of the First Temple only. This is because the essential features that were
lost—the aron, the luchos, the Urim V’Tumim, the kaporis
and the keruvim, the Divine Presence itself—were not restored in the
Second Temple. The Tenth of Teves was the beginning of the process, and as such
is the root of the national tragedy that we mourn to this day.
By way of explaining its meaning, I would like to recall here
the story of the city of Vermaisa (Worms, Germany), which was devastated twice
during the Crusades.
In his historical work Shearis Yisrael, the author
recounts the tradition of the SeMA (Rabbi Yehoshua Falk) regarding the fate of
that city: When Ezra went to build the Second Temple, he invited all the Jews of
the exile to return with him to Eretz Yisrael. The people of Vermaisa replied
that they were happy where they were in the “little Jerusalem” of Vermaisa. As a
punishment for so completely dismissing the opportunity to rebuild Eretz Yisrael,
they were twice destroyed.
But why was their destruction deferred until the time of the
Crusades? Why not back in Ezra’s time? Perhaps we can answer in the following
way: The Crusades were launched by thousands of Christians who were outraged
that the Holy Land was under the rule of infidels. So they undertook an historic
mission to liberate it for Christendom. They were willing to abandon their
families for years and endanger their lives—for what? For Eretz Yisrael! That’s
when the kiterug (indictment in the Heavenly Court) was brought against
the people of Vermaisa.
Some years ago, when I said this at the Aguda Convention, I
was asked afterwards, “If that’s the case, what about today?” I didn’t want to
speak as a kiterug. But there are Moslems who in their distorted way are
ready to commit suicide for what they believe to be their homeland. At the same
time, there are many Jews ready to give it away. They would happily take a
reservation in Oklahoma, if the White House would make the offer. Anything for
peace and the comforts of Western society.
Two days before that convention I read in the newspaper that
34 graves were desecrated in Vermaisa. There aren’t any Jews living in Vermaisa
anymore, but when there are non-Jews who demonstrate their willingness to
sacrifice for Eretz Yisrael, the Jews of Vermaisa—even in their graves—are
The Jews have shown themselves all too willing to live in
exile among the nations. So for two thousand years HaShem has taken us on an
extended tour of all the goyim—Greeks, Romans, Persians, Spanish,
British, French. Now we’ve seen them all, close up. Any Jew who has a brain in
his head is disgusted by it all. The hope is that after all that, he’ll want to
come back to Eretz Yisrael. That process starts with the Tenth of Teves, with an
understanding that we’re not where we really should be. But because we don’t
want to be where we really should be, the goyim are needed to remind us.
They lay siege to Yerushalayim, and the message is that that is where we belong.
On the Tenth of Teves we have to get in touch with our
feeling for Eretz Yisrael and our purpose here. We have to feel the pain of the
loss of the Divine Presence, the aron, the luchos, that departed
with the destruction of the First Temple, and have yet to return. We have to cry
out in pain that because of our sins things are so wrong, and that the holy
Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael has yet to be revived. If we can do that, it will
make a difference. Otherwise, the willingness to sacrifice on the part of the
Palestinians may, G-d forbid, be a kiterug against us; like the Crusaders
were to the people of Vermaisa.