1. As mentioned on many previous occasions, a fast day is “a day of will.” The intent of this statement is not merely that through the fast, G‑d’s will is aroused, but rather that the fast day itself is a day desired by G‑d.
There is a particular connection between this concept and today’s fast, the Fast of Gedaliah. The Fast of Gedaliah, like the fasts of the Tenth of Teves, the Seventeenth of Tammuz, and the Ninth of Av, commemorates a tragic event in the epoch of the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash by the Babylonians. Nevertheless, unlike the other fast days which are referred to by the dates which commemorate national catastrophes, the name, Fast of Gedaliah, is associated with the name of a person of positive import, Gedaliah.
To explain: After the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, Nebuchadneztar appointed Gedaliah as the governor of Judah. Gedaliah descended from the House of David and was accepted by the remaining prophets and Sages. As such, his rule reflected the possibility for a continuation — albeit with restrictions — of the kingdom of Judah. After his murder, this possibility was nullified and the destruction of the land and the exile of the people became complete.
To commemorate this tragedy, a public fast was instituted. Nevertheless, as explained above, the name of this fast, the Fast of Gedaliah, is positive, indicating a direct connection to the concept of a fast day being a day of will.
The positive nature of the Fast of Gedaliah is reflected in that, according to many opinions, the fast is not held on the day on which Gedaliah was murdered. I.e., Gedaliah was murdered on Rosh HaShanah. The fast, however, is not held on that day, for Rosh HaShanah is “sanctified unto our L‑rd,” above all material concerns, and definitely above events associated with tragedy and destruction. On the contrary, it should be a day when one “eats succulent foods and drinks sweet beverages.”
When a fast is scheduled to be held on Shabbos, it is postponed until the following day. Furthermore, on Sunday, when the fast is held, there are certain leniencies. This emphasizes the positive nature of the fast. Similarly, at the very outset, the Fast of Gedaliah was “postponed,” i.e., it was not ordained to be observed on the day the tragedy occurred. Therefore, its status is more lenient than that of other fasts.
Even according to the opinions which maintain that the murder of Gedaliah took place on the third of Tishrei and thus the fast is not postponed, the Fast of Gedaliah possesses a dimension of leniency over other fasts.
To explain: The Anshei Maamad, the men who acted as the representatives of the Israelites for the sacrifices offered in the Beis HaMikdash, would fast throughout the week. They would not, however, begin their fast on Sunday, “so that they would not emerge from rest and pleasure to work and fasting and die.” Although the fast was required by the nature of their service, since the transition from the rest and pleasure of the Shabbos to a fast could have undesirable results, the Torah did not obligate them to fast.
This concept implies that appreciating Shabbos pleasure in the proper manner has an effect on the day that follows. Simply put, the pleasure from the Shabbos foods carries over until the following day. Therefore, the fact that the Anshei Maamad did not fast on Sunday can also be attributed to the continuing influence of Shabbos. The fast of the Anshei Maamad had to be severe in nature. Because the influence of Shabbos continues to prevail on Sunday, a severe fast was impossible. Therefore, they did not fast at all.1
Similarly, in regard to Rosh HaShanah: Since the day is characterized by “eating succulent foods and drinking sweet beverages,” the Fast of Gedaliah which follows2 is still affected by this influence and therefore, is not as severe as the other fast days. On the contrary, the conception of it as a “day of will” is stronger.
The positive import of the name, the Fast of Gedaliah, is also implied by the first word of the name, Tzom, “fast.” As reflected in the additions to the Machzor in the prayer Unasonah Tokef, tzom is associated with teshuvah. The name of this prayer is also significant, meaning literally,3 “And You shall endow with strength.” I.e., G‑d endows every Jew with a quality of strength.
In this context, we can understand the placement of this prayer next to the kedushah beginning “A crown is given to You… by Your people Israel” which reflects how every Jew has the potential to crown G‑d as King, as it were.
Because of these positive qualities, certain undesirable factors are mentioned in the prayer Unasonah Tokef. Generally, on Rosh HaShanah (and even on Yom Kippur), we are careful not to mention undesirable factors. Because of the positive qualities mentioned above, however, we can rest assured that all the undesirable qualities will be transformed4 into good and the judgment of all the Jews will be only for good from the beginning of the year onward.
Thus we can be assured that the true positive nature of the Fast of Gedaliah will soon be revealed. And with the coming of the Redemption, it will be transformed into a day of celebration and rejoicing.
This is particularly true due to the influence of the previous year, the year (תנש”א). This relates to the phrase, תנשא מלכותך, “Your Kingdom will be uplifted.” And this will be enhanced by the influence of the present year, a year when “miracles will be understood.” I.e., the previous year, the year of “I will show you wonders,” related to the power of Chochmah, for the power of sight shares a connection to Chochmah and the present year relates to the power of Binah, “understanding.” That power possesses certain advantages over Chochmah as explained in Chassidic texts.5
The advantages of the present year can be understood in a simple sense, the letters (תשנ_), 575_ stand for the Hebrew words meaning “This will be a year of wonders,” and 2 (5752, the present year) is twice 1 (5751, the previous year). I.e., the wonders of the present year will be twice those of the previous year.
Also, this will be a year of niflaos bakol, “wonders in all things.” Similarly, bakol relates to the threefold expression of good granted to the Patriarchs, bakol mikol kol. The latter expression is numerically equivalent to the word kabetz (קבץ) meaning “ingathering,” an allusion to the ingathering of the exiles which will occur when G‑d “sounds the great shofar for our freedom.”
In this context, we can understand the prayer, L’Shanah haboah b’Yerushalayim, “Next year in Jerusalem” recited on Yom Kippur and on Pesach. As the Previous Rebbe explained, the intent is not that the Redemption will be postponed until next year, but that the Redemption will come immediately and thus Pesach and Yom Kippur will be celebrated in Jerusalem.
For we will be granted a good and sweet year in all things. And this good will continue and increase until we merit the Redemption and after that, the Resurrection. Then Gedaliah6 — for he was of the House of David — will be among the leaders of the people. And we will proceed following him with great joy to our Holy Land. This joy will surpass the rejoicing of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah and the rejoicing of Simchas Torah, for the joy of the Redemption will be unbounded. May this take place in the immediate future.
1. Thus the fasts of the Anshei Maamad, unlike our fasts, were not associated with the idea of “a day of will.” Similarly, we find fasts that are undertaken for penance to be associated primarily with negative influences. Therefore, when a particular Chassid wanted to fast for this purpose, the Rebbe Rashab paid personal attention to him to see that the fast did not have an overly negative effect.
2. In certain years, Shabbos follows directly after Rosh HaShanah and thus the Fast of Gedaliah is postponed another day. In this instance, the influence of the Shabbos prevails on the Fast of Gedaliah causing it to be governed by more lenient rules.
3. Trans. Note: With the context of this hymn, the words have a slightly different meaning. See the Machzor published by Kehot.
4. In regard to the transformation of undesirable qualities into good, there is a well-known story of the Mitteler Rebbe who explained in regard to the curses found in the Torah, “when my father reads them, they are different in nature.” Similarly, when our Father reads any of the undesirable factors mentioned in Unasonah Tokef, we can rest assured that the intent is positive.
5. The dimension of understanding associated with the present year will also be reflected in our understanding the teachings of Pnimiyus HaTorah to be revealed by Mashiach.
6. Gedaliah’s importance is also reflected in that he is at times referred to as Gedalyahu (גדלי-הו), i.e., the letters yud, hay, and vav, the first letters of the name Havayah, are added to his name.