Rav Zev Leff teaches that there are four aspects of exile, and each of the minor fast days that deal with Chorban Bet HaMikdash (the destruction of the Holy Temple) correlate to one of them.
The four aspects of exile are:
- Losing our autonomy and being under the control of foreign powers
- Becoming vulnerable to attacks and abuse by the nations of the world
- Not having a Bet HaMikdash–a tremendous energy source of holiness
- Living outside of Eretz Yisrael and being scattered among the nations of the world
Asarah B’Tevet represents the first aspect. When Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem, we lost our autonomy. We could no longer leave or enter Jerusalem and were subjugated by the nations of the world.
Shiva Asar B’Tamuz is related to the second. The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE, and the Jewish People were no longer safe and secure. We became open and vulnerable to abuse and harm from the Romans who entered and wreaked havoc.
Tisha B’Av corresponds to the third aspect of exile. On this day, both Batei Mikdash were destroyed. The first was burned by the Babylonians in 423 BCE, and the second fell to the Romans in 70 CE.
Tzom Gedaliah is connected to the fourth dimension of exile. When Gedaliah was killed by Ishmael ben Netaniah, the remaining Jews who were in Eretz Yisrael fled to Egypt. We were no longer living in the Holy Land, and we truly were scattered throughout the world.
(Taanit Esther does not deal with Chorban Bet HaMikdash, so although it is one of the minor fast days, it is not included in our current discussion.)
The Gemara in Berachot (17a) tells us that there are two things that prevent us from doing Hashem’s will: the s’or shebaisa, the “yeast in the dough” (our Evil Inclination), and shibud malchiyot, being subjugated by the nations of the world.
The Evil Inclination is what leads us to give in to our temptations and base drives instead of doing what we intellectually know we ought to. Regarding shibud malchiyot, Rav Leff notes that this subjugation can manifest itself not only physically, but also culturally. For instance, one’s desire to buy a pair of $200 faded, ripped blue jeans is not truly his desire at all. It “belongs” to the culture of the country he lives in. Upon honest contemplation, it proves to be no more than a fabricated desire distracting a person from focusing on fulfilling his mission in Hashem’s world (see Rav Dessler’s essay on parable and meaning in Michtav Me’Eliyahu).
The root of exile is being a slave and not in control of our own free-will. All other facets of exile spring forth from this lack of internal and external self-control. This is precisely what happened on Asarah B’Tevet. When the siege began, our freedom slowly ended. Therefore, even though the damage done on Asarah B’Tevet was seemingly incomparable to what transpired on the other three fast days dealing with Chorban Bet HaMikdash, if it were to fall out on Shabbat (which our calendar does not allow for), we would still fast.
On Asarah B’Tevet, we mourn the loss not of walls, the Bet HaMikdash, or even our fleeing from the Holy Land itself. Instead, we mourn the loss of what led to all of that: the atrophying of our free-will due to the s’or shebaisa and shibud malchiyot–the loss of our autonomy, in all its forms.
May we merit to prevent both of those negative forces from hijacking our free-will and, instead, use it to fulfill our unique life missions and Hashem’s will.