There is this universal understanding that the tragedy of עשרת בטבת, is defined by the fact that it is the beginning of the end. The catalyst of Jewish Galut; eternal destruction and detachment. Like everything in the Torah, nothing in Judaism is coincidental. The brief history behind this fast day is the siege and conquest of our holy Jerusalem by the Babylonian Empire—led by King Nebuchadnezzar. This ultimate submission to foreign and “anti-G!dly” power is an understandable and valid event to be associated with the “beginning of the end.”
However, I’d like to suggest that the issues linked to this siege were not born at this point in history, but rather were resurfaced. The Jews have unfortunately faced many enemies and gratefully have remained resilient against the efforts of empires throughout history. This beautiful reality poses the question as to why there is repetition. We’ve seen the name בבל-Babylon in our story before.
Featured in the famous and monumental story of the Tower of Babel, this repetition is meaningful and moves us to recognize the essence behind the name. The first time we hear ״בבל״ it is a beautiful tragedy. The dominant unity of the world brought great power, yet fell submissive to the pursuit of “defeating G!d” and eradicating spirituality, thus leading into irreversible destruction. The punishment of the world was our internal disconnect—we would no longer be as understanding and universally connected as we were then.
It was this same unfortunate “miscommunication” between us and G!d—people’s relationship with Torah and each other that our sages explain led to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. When I think about this story, I find the power of our expressions to be the most present.
Which brings me to a beautiful idea I recently learned.
In one of Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro’s (Piacezna Rebbe) writings, he explains the incredible potential of an individual who balances the duality of spirituality and emotion. He explains ״התרגשות״ which is the active pursuit of emotional consciousness, and ״התלהבות״ which is the act of infusing emotions into spirituality.
He explains that with this practice, we have the power intrinsically to foster Shefa and Brachot into our lives. An important word is “potential”. We’ve been born into a world of equal potentials; something can be equally good as it can be bad. The experience remains dependent on the thoughts and emotions we translate into our actions. The Piacezna Rebbe explains that with the same tools we were given to deliver spirituality, we most often fail with. This balance of opportunity brings awareness into the world, which can be understood as an ultimate expression of G!dliness.
Translating emotions into spirituality seems extremely lofty, but in reality the simplicity of its application should hopefully inspire us to pursue.
According to Kabbalah, every month is glazed with a certain energy. The month of Tevet is noted as the month of ״כעס״ – anger. I’d like to merge the concepts between equal potentials and the historic destruction of Jerusalem with this bridge. Jerusalem, also according to Kabbalistic thought, connects to the element of fire. Fire truly serves as an example of balanced force; fire has the potential to provide light and life as it equally prescribes death and demolition. Jerusalem and her inhabitants, (controversy, aggression and all) are lively. The people of Jerusalem are fiery and passionate, soulful and sincere.
We have nationally just experienced fire in its most prime beauty, the illumination of Chanukah and its miracles. As we emerge from that flame we enter into the furnace of עשרת בטבת.
It is evidently clear that the Piacezna Rebbe had more than an appropriate position to explain the transition of pain into power, weakness into will, and siege into self. By taking our emotions, whether they be the deepest of sorrow to the most elevated celebration, and convert them into spirituality, we have actively translated the language of our soul into reality. Our spiritual struggles and hardships are often a product of misunderstanding ourselves. Feeling unaware or detached to who we really are: to what our soul strives to accomplish.
In the beauty of R’ Alon Anava’s direct mussar, he states, “You are not happy, because your neshama (soul) isn’t happy.”
With the awareness of spirituality through our emotions, we gift ourselves patience and kindness. We then understand that our emotional experiences do not take away or G!d forbid “ruin” our spirituality, but rather enhance our soul development.
We transition from the Siege of Jerusalem this Friday into Shabbat, and this week’s Parsha.
Again, never coincidentally, the monumental reveal of Yosef to his brothers, serves as another example of emotions translated into spiritual empowerment. Yosef experienced pains and betrayal beyond our understanding, yet is recognized for his forgiving and loving actions. With the cards he was dealt, Yosef was practically expected to fail spiritually. Through the environment, isolation and resentment—Yosef’s soul was under siege.
But among his drought of external spirituality, much like the Chassidic aspirations of the Piacezna Rebbe, Yosef cultivated spirituality through the recognition and application of his emotions.
Especially under the circumstances of the world, we are in a constant state of attack—overwhelming fear and disconnect have been directing our spiritual compass.
However, I hope and pray that with the wisdom of Torah and the blessing of our communities, to the best of our ability we translate our emotions into the most pristine spirituality and connection.
Wishing everyone a meaningful and impactful fast that we not only enter with true understanding of its magnitude, but emerge from its ashes with the empowering reality that just as much as there has been Galut, there will be Geulah.