The Fast Of Gedalia The End Of Golf Season

In high school I was a geek. My fellow geeks and I built a radio tower out of empty beer cans-–Bob’s father was an alcoholic. We also re-labeled all the chemicals in the chemistry lab because we thought the student teacher was too smart to waste his time teaching us, and we proudly upheld the Order of the Geek – whatever that was.
I was also very religious. I grew up in an Orthodox environment, even though we did not always understand why we did what we did.This was the case for our commemoration of the Fast of Gedalia. I knew that we observed it (it was a sunrise-to-sunset fast). I knew that it was right after Rosh Hashanah and especially that we commemorated it if 1) it fell on a school day, and 2) the weather was good. For me and my dad the Fast of Gedalia was the official end of the golf season. My religiosity made me the envy of all my geek friends.

Now as an adult, and as someone way too low tech to be called a geek, I have learned that the Fast of Gedalia holds lessons especially important for our times.

The First Temple was destroyed about 2,500 years ago, and the majority of the Jewish people were exiled by the ruler Sennacherib. When Nebuchadnezzar eventually conquered the Land of Israel, he softened Sennacherib’s decree and allowed some Jews to remain in Israel. He appointed a righteous Jew, Gedalia, to administer the territory. Little by little under Gedalia’s administration, more and more Jews returned home.

Gedalia was politically astute, and he understood that it was in the best interest of the Jews to remain on Nebuchanezzar’s good side. Not all Jews shared his approach, however, and a man named Ishmael ben Nethaniah and his followers assassinated Gedalia.

Fearing reprisal from Babylon, the assassins turned to Egypt for help. Egypt offered help, but as soon as Babylon attacked Egypt, the Egyptians abandoned Israel, and Babylon killed tens of thousands of Jews.

The historical events surrounding Gedalia teach us three important lessons:
1) “Is it good for the Jews?” is not just a question from our grandparents’ generation.  Events in the world around us will impact the Jewish world. We cannot hide from that.
2) Wishful thinking can lead us to tragic consequences. It is fine to plan for what we want to happen – just do not bet the farm on it.
3) There is no greater assault on the Jewish people than one Jew killing another. Like it or not, we share a common history and a common future. If we succeed, we will succeed together. If we fail, we will fail because we have not learned the lessons of our own past.

Rabbi Stanley Halpern