The month of Tevet, which begins, believe it or not, our slow but
inexorable countdown to Purim and Pesach, is marked by the fast day of the
tenth of Tevet. The fast day of the tenth of Tevet marks the beginning of
the siege of Jerusalem, which eventually led to the destruction of the
holy Temple and the exile of Israel from its homeland. However, Jewish
tradition records that the ninth day of Tevet is also a sad day on the
Jewish calendar worthy of being declared a fast day by itself.
This ninth day of Tevet is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch at Orach Chayim,
Section 580, sub-section two. But the language there is most cryptic for
it states that the ninth day of Tevet is a sad day for “troubles that
occurred on that day that are no longer known to us.” How are we to
commemorate a day that has no meaning for us? And why should the rabbis
have hidden, so to speak, the matter so that it is “no longer known to us?”
In the selichot, the penitential prayers for the tenth day of Tevet,
reference is made to the day of the ninth of Tevet as being the day of
death of the great Jewish leader, Ezra the Scribe. In those selichot as
well and so also in the above section of the Shulchan Aruch, the eighth
day of Tevet is also mentioned as a day that is a candidate for being a
The reason given for this sad day is that it is the anniversary of the
forced translation of the Torah into Greek – the Septuagint – by the
emperor of Egypt, Ptolemy. Thus we have three consecutive sad potential
fast days following one upon the other in the month of Tevet. According to
the selichot recited on the tenth of Tevet, all of these fast days have
been united into the one fast day of the tenth of Tevet.
We are still left with the troublesome and somewhat mysterious question as
to why the Shulchan Aruch did not clearly identify the ninth day of Tevet
as being the day of the death of Ezra the Scribe. Ezra ranks only second
to Moshe in the hierarchy of the transmitters of Torah to the Jewish
people. The rabbis of the Talmud taught us that “if the Torah had not been
given through Moshe then it would have been given through Ezra.” It
therefore appears rather unlikely that the rabbis would purposely hide his
day of death and give that sad day an anonymous character.
There are also opinions that the date of Ezra’s passing was in fact the
eighth of Tevet and not the ninth. As such, the mystery regarding the
ninth of Tevet only deepens. Judaic scholars abhor mysteries and thus many
theories have been advanced as to the reason for the sadness and trouble
that occurred on the ninth day of Tevet. Though there are no hard and fast
proofs that can sustain any of these theories, there is one fascinating
theory that I wish to share with you.
I attended a lecture a number of years ago given by Professor Shneur Z.
Leiman, the head of Judaic studies at Brooklyn College in New York.
Professor Leiman is a great Talmudic scholar and a recognized scholar and
expert in Judaic studies generally. He proposed that based upon recurring
Jewish legends about the possibility of there being Jewish popes in the
early years of Christianity and the fact that the rabbis of the time of
the Mishna exerted all efforts to delineate Judaism as a religion
completely separate and distinct from even nascent Christianity, the
rabbis placed a “mole” – one of their own colleagues – into the hierarchy
of the then beginning church to insure that it would completely separate
itself from the Jewish people and Judaism per se.
This person naturally was awarded the cover of anonymity by the rabbis and
his mission was most successful, for Christianity, early on, did separate
itself completely from Jews and Judaism. Various names have been submitted
to identify the true identity of this person. I remember that Professor
Leiman chose a likely candidate but I no longer recall who he was. This
anonymous hero of the rabbis and the Jewish people died on the ninth of
Tevet and he is remembered, albeit anonymously, by the cryptic reference
to that date in the Shulchan Aruch. I cannot vouch for the veracity of
this theory but it certainly made for one fascinating and intriguing
Yehuda confronts Yosef regarding all of the false accusations he has piled
on to his brothers. Both Yosef and Yehuda have right on their side. Yehuda
is certainly correct in sensing that Yosef has a personal agenda of
animosity towards him and his brothers that has expressed itself in all of
the false accusations that he has leveled against them. Yosef is justified
in his behavior towards his brothers in order to bring them to the
realization of the terrible sin they committed against him and Yaakov when
they sold him as a slave and covered up the event for over twenty years.
Both Yehuda and Yosef are strong personalities, each convinced in the
rectitude of one’s cause and opposition. Yosef has the upper hand since
the brothers are under his jurisdiction and arrest. Yet Yosef is weakened
by the knowledge that these are his brothers and that any act of revenge
that he may take upon them may at the end rebound negatively to him and
his family. This knowledge of the difficulty and ambivalence of the
situation is the reason for his weeping and finally, of his revealing
himself as their long lost brother.
His pursuit of ultimate justice and full repentance of the brothers
appears to be too dangerous a course to pursue further. The unity of the
family, the knowledge of the grief of his father and his compounding of
that grief by his behavior towards the brothers until now, finally takes
precedence over the strict justice that he apparently intended to inflict
upon them. Sometimes truly, discretion is the better part of valor.
Yehuda and all of the brothers are shocked and dismayed, speechless in
fright and shame, at the revelation of Yosef to them. They realize that
they were wrong in discounting his dreams and in taking such a drastic
step as to remove him from their immediate family. Yet the tear between
Yosef and his brothers lingers and will reawaken itself after the death of
Even later in Jewish history when the kingdom of Solomon splits into two
it is Yehuda and Yosef that still confront each other. Each then also has
right on its side but that division turns into disaster for the Jewish
people and its sovereignty in the Land of Israel. There are many times in
life when pushing right and justice to the limit can have very negative
consequences in the long run of events.
Yosef’s revelation to his brothers before he exacted a full measure of
justice from them allowed the family to reunite, albeit with tensions and
past wrongs not fully resolved. This course of behavior is analogous to
the idea of the Talmud that there are many times that a person must behave
l’fnim meshurat hadin – in a fashion that is beyond the demands of justice
alone. The behavior of both Yosef and Yehuda in this confrontation and its
resolution for the benefit of family unity testifies to their wisdom and
holiness in a most dangerous and volatile situation.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org
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