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Rabbi’s Blog: Surrender, Survival, and Asara B'Teves

01/03/2023 11:42:51 AM


Dear OZ family,


Asara B’tevet represents a turning point for our people that had history-changing ramifications. Until the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem, the prophet Yirmiyahu had begged the leaders of Israel to avoid destruction with surrender. Allowing the Babylonians unimpeded entry into the city would mean that the Temple would not be destroyed, the people would be allowed to remain in the land, and there would be no exile of the entire nation. The kingdom would be dissolved and the nation would be placed under burdensome tribute and confiscatory taxation, but it would be preferable to exile and slavery. It was crucial that the Jews surrender so that a sizeable community would remain in the land to welcome the exiles from previous Babylonian conquests during the reign of Yehoyakim and his son, Yehoyachin, not to mention the Assyrian exiles from the 10 tribes. Yirmiyahu had insider information that these invincible Babylonians would soon fall to the Persians, who would be kindly disposed to allowing us to return to our land.


Yirmiyahu’s message of surrender was not popular. The generals wanted to fight and were sure that God would stand up for them. Yirmiyahu corrected this misconception, and warned again and again that surrender was their only realistic option. Yechezkel, who was exiled 11 years before the Temple was destroyed, predicted in Bavel, that when the 10th of Tevet records a tragic event, then even surrender would no longer be an option. Once the siege was laid, destruction was assured, and the churban became inevitable. When the Babylonians did sack Jerusalem and destroy the Temple, they freed Yirmiyahu from jail, to maintain a community in Israel. He was allowed to choose a leader and he appointed the son of a man who had come to his rescue when he was very close to death at the hands of those who did not like his message of surrender. Achikam ben Shafan saved Yirmiyahu’s life, and his son, Gedalia ruled as governor.


This did not sit well with the people who wanted to fight, and Gedalia was soon killed. This tragic event, which assure that there would be even fewer Jews in the land to welcome the exiles, warranted its own fast day. As it turned out, only approximately one in a hundred Jews returned to Israel, 70 years later with Ezra and Nechemia, to build back the second commonwealth of Israel. The first event pointing to the beginning of our second exile, Asara B’tevet, always falls the week that we read about our descent to Egypt, to begin our first exile. That exile began with good will between Paroah and Yosef’s family, but quickly devolved, as the Egyptians chose to forget all that Yosef had done for them. This would replay itself countless times in our history in countries all over the globe.  Paroah accused us of being a fifth column in his land, ready to join a fabricated enemy to take over the land. It is a similar canard leveled against us today regarding Jews who support Israel.


The vitriol and unbridled venom that is leveled against Israel is frightening. Palestinian leaders’ calls for outright murder of Israeli men, women and children are drowned out by world condemnation against Israeli politicians who visit the Temple Mount. The rise of such Anti-Israeli rhetoric and action on college campuses is reminiscent of similar activities in Germany just after the Nazi rise to power. The leaders of the next generation, who are now in colleges across the land are exposed to a well-orchestrated plan to de-legitimize Israel at every level. Yesterday’s New York Post ran an article from Ronald S. Lauder about this and it ran a picture showing vitriolic signs against Israel. In the background, you can see men in long coats, peyos and beards. That the Neturei Karta can join such vitriol is a blight upon our nation.


Let this be a wake-up call about what faces our students when they attend college in much of this land today. Try vocally defending Israel and watch what happens. Many colleges today are teaching our students to hate their country, to be ashamed of their history, to very much judge people by the color of their skin, and to divide the world into the oppressors and the oppressed (guess which side Jews and Israel are on). However, while surrender was Yirmiyahu’s only option leading up to Asara B’tevet, we have the means to respond to the hatred and vitriol. Senator Schumer claims to be the “Shomer” for his people. Let us keep reminding him that the worst State right now for Anti-Israel activity on campus is his own. We have the careful vigilance of Jewish organizations that keep these issues on the front burner for our community. For us today, let our fasting drive us to teshuva and self-improvement, to deserve Divine grace and favor.


Alisa and I are traveling tomorrow to Israel. We will be spending Shabbos at Beit Elazraki in Netanya, a children’s home that many of our members support. I am available by email during this time and the office has my cell # as well.


Have an easy and meaningful fast.


Tonight at 6:30pm we will serve a post-fast break-fast and I will be having a book-signing event for my new volume of Parasha Sheleimah, for Sefer Shemot, as we kick-off a new series of Tuesday Nights Talks to take place on select dates throughout the year -


Stay well and healthy.

Rabbi Allen Schwartz        




Rabbi Allen Schwartz

Congregation Ohab Zedek

118 West 95th Street | New York, NY  10025-6604

Phone 212.749-5150, ext 200 | Fax 212.663-3635




Mon, March 4 2024 24 Adar I 5784