Friday, 13 December 2013

New Realities

This Erev Shabbat is not like any other. We knew it wouldn't be, since it is one of the occasions when the Fast of Tevet falls on a Friday, a rare event that can only happen with this fast.

But this year in Jerusalem it has been different. Much has been made of the early snowfall this year, but could there be significance in its timing to coincide with the Fast of Tevet?

At Shacharit I wondered this when I saw that snow is mentioned in today's Selichot as a metaphor for being pure and clean from sin. But as the day progressed I saw a deeper correlation.

Although there were warnings of snow, the scale of the snow today still took people by surprise and it became evident early today that it would be impossible to leave Jerusalem. After I had internalised this reality and made different Shabbat plans, there was a power cut, which again changed the reality of the day. Apart from the lack of heating, there was the chance that there would be no hot food on Shabbat. Then I heard that the Eruv in Jerusalem was down, which forced many people to go out in the snow before Shabbat to give food and presents that they otherwise would have done on Shabbat.

It is certainly a day like no other, and it isn't over yet. We haven't gone through the odd religious transition of leyening for fast days followed by Kabbalat Shabbat and then breaking the fast on Kiddush. But over the day we have constantly adjusted to new realities that have made life, and specifically the observance of Shabbat, more challenging than they would otherwise have been. What started as an innocent piece of weather news ended up as an all-encompassing reality.

I would like to suggest that this is in fact the idea behind the Fast of Tevet. It is the anniversary not of a war but of the start of the siege of Jerusalem. Being under siege meant no travel out of the city, difficulty finding food and if it happened today, power outages. Normally when we fast we spend the day appreciating the blessing of food and drink. This fast has taught us to appreciate that and much more, and helping us to identify more with the historical events of the day.

The aim of fast days is to awaken thoughts of teshuva through remembering the sad events that have been inflicted on the Jewish people throughout history. However with the Fast of Tevet the event itself was not significant - life may have been fairly normal on 10th Tevet. But the effects would be felt in the weeks and months ahead. In religious thought, there was still time to do teshuva and stop the descent towards the destruction of the Temple, just as it was possible to end the siege. However the opportunity was not taken and the Temple was eventually destroyed.

The Fast of Tevet marks the beginning of a process where we are forced to adjust to new realities. If what we have learned from today is to appreciate more the source of all our basic needs, then that can act as the foundation for a collective teshuva and a catalyst for the process leading to the rebuilding of the Temple, which is the ultimate new reality we should aim to adjust to.