Parashat Pinehas 5769/ July 11, 2009
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Dr. Tova Ganzel
Midrasha for Women and Department of Bible
The fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which
falls on Thursday, July 9, is one of the group of fast days mourning the
On the fourth of Kislev, in the fourth year of the reign of King Darius, when the people were building the Second Temple, the priests and levites were asked whether one should continue mourning on the ninth of Ab: “Shall I weep and practice abstinence in the fifth month, as I have been doing all these years?” (Zech. 7:3). Zechariah brings G-d’s response to the common people and priests, but his answer is oblique: “When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my benefit? And when you eat and drink, who but you does the eating, and who but you does the drinking?” (Zech. 7:5-6).
The Lord’s response as presented by the prophet is
surprising, because it mentions in addition to the fast on the ninth of
Ab (in the fifth month) the fast of
Gedaliah (in the seventh month).
This last fast was established because of the
murder of Gedaliah son of Ahikam
(Jer. 41:16), and is not directly related to the destruction of the
Secondly, the prophet's response does not provide a clear
answer to the people’s question. The
prophet adds that fasting during the seventy years that had passed since the
destruction of the
And the word of the Lord of Hosts came to me, saying, Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity.
A Marked Change
These verses provide the people with a clearer answer to
their question. Here the prophet also
mentions the rest of the fast days that were established in regard to the
destruction of the Temple – the fast of
the fourth month (17th of Tammuz) and the fast of the
tenth month (10th of Tevet), and brings the people tidings
that in the future all these days will become days of joy.
This answer implies that, even when the
What connection is there between the two prophecies, what change is required of the nation, and how are Zechariah’s words to be understood in the light of that era?
Those were disappointing days for the Jews who had returned
That was not the case.
Many of the exiles did not return to the land, notwithstanding Cyrus’
declaration. A severe drought struck the
land and its yield was poor. Coping with
the difficulties of daily life led to many delays in building the
Hence, the prophet’s response deals with the spiritual and
historical difficulties being faced by the people, aside from the question of
the fast day. The Lord’s first response
specifically mentions the fast of Gedaliah,
commemorating an event that took place after the destruction of the
Execute true justice; deal loyally and compassionately with one another. Do not defraud the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; and do not plot evil against one another. – But they refused to pay heed. They presented a balky back and turned a deaf ear. They hardened their hearts like adamant against heeding the instruction and admonition that the Lord of Hosts sent to them by His spirit through the earlier prophets.
Change of Events or Change of Attitude
While the people’s question about canceling the fast of the ninth of Ab stemmed from the renewed possibility of offering sacrifices in the Temple that was being rebuilt, the Lord’s response specifically emphasized societal matters, first by mentioning the fast of the seventh month, which unlike the other fasts was established in the wake of an assassination that actually took place after the destruction of the Temple, and later by describing the Lord’s anger at the people for not mending their ways as a society in the wake of the prophets’ admonishments: “and a terrible wrath issued from the Lord of Hosts. Even as He called and they would not listen, ‘So,’ said the Lord of Hosts, ‘let them call and I will not listen’” (Zech. 7:12-13). Therefore, in His response, the Lord connected discontinuation of the fast days and fulfillment of the prophecies of consolation, for which the people yearned, directly with a change in the behavior of society. These things would come to pass when the people mend their ways and learn to shun the social wrongs that the Lord hates (Zech. 8:16-17):
These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.
After society improves itself the fast days would be cancelled
and a new reality would dawn, utterly different from the reality in which they
lived at the moment. In this new reality
the streets of
Through his complicated answer to the people, Zechariah tries to bring them to understand that a spiritual uplift accompanied by material prosperity cannot be achieved by technical cancellation of days of fasting and mourning. Spiritual growth, the essence of the redemption for which we long to this day, can come about only in the wake of a marked change in the ways of the people, including their treatment of one another.
Illustration: According to the Mishnah, Taanit 4.6, five calamities befell our ancestors on the 17th of Tammuz, including Moses’ smashing of the Tablets of the Covenant.