The Fast of Gedaliah, or Tzom Gedaliah, happens the day after Rosh Hashanah. Why is it after two days of eating probably too much challah, honey cake and of course, apples and honey, are we met with a dawn-to-dusk fast day? Some view it as a health day, after all, who really wants to keep eating after two days of marvelous feasts. While we are still in the spirit of a happy and sweet new year, we also must commemorate the horrible events that took place in Jewish history. To note- this is a minor fast which begins at sunrise and ends at sundown on the same day.
Who was Gedaliah?
After Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and demolished the Kingdom of Judea, and exiled most of the Jews living in the Kingdom of Judea. However, he wanted to use the land and allowed the poorest Jews to stay in Judea and take cultivate and care for his vineyards. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as the governor of the remaining Jews of Judea. Gedaliah was beloved by all and convinced the people to do Nebuchadnezzar’s work in the vineyards, which soon lead to a foundation in security by the Babylonian army, protecting the Jewish people from all danger. The success of the Jewish people reached around the world and other Jews were so impressed that they even returned to Judea with a warm welcome from Gedaliah. For as long as they worked for the Kingdom of Babylonian, the Jewish people were able to live a peaceful life.
How did Gedaliah die?
While many loved the modest and wise Gedaliah, there were a few who did not. A man named Ishmael, a descendant of the last king of Judea, hated that Gedaliah was leader of the Jewish people, where as he, actual Jewish royalty, was not and vowed to reach his goal of becoming a leader. Ishmael plotted to kill Gedaliah and gathered ten followers to join him in this horrible deed. Yochanan, one of Gedaliah’s officers, heard of Ishmael’s plan before Rosh Hashanah and warned Gedaliah of this threat. Gedaliah was a generous person and refused to believe his life was being threatened and refused to allow Yochanan to kill Ishmael. Over Rosh Hashanah, Gedaliah invited Ishmael for a meal to celebrate the new year together but unfortunately the words of Yochanan were correct and the meal ended in the death of Gedaliah and many of his followers as well as many captive. Yochanan went after Ishmael and was able to free those being held captive, but Ishmael escaped into the nearby land of Ammon.
The Jews of Judea were in a panic because their leader, a friend of Nebuchadnezzar, was killed which had the possibility to mean that they would face the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews began to flee towards Egypt despite the request of Jeremiah the profit who told them to stay in Judea and that they would still be protected. The last of the Jewish people left Judea and the Babylonian exile was complete.
During this time of year, we are celebrating a brand new year full of happiness and sweetness, why do we fast and commemorate the death of Gedaliah the day after Rosh Hashanah ends? What happened back then was a crime so horrible and ended the Jews being in Israel, so it is something that must be remembered. Just like on Tisha B’Av we fast and remember the destruction of the Temple, on the third of Tishrei, the day after Rosh Hashanah, we remember our last moments in Israel before we fled. However, in the book of Zecharia, it is written that this is one of the four fasts that will become a joyous occasion when Mashiach (the Messiash) comes.
May we all have a happy and sweet new year. Shana Tova!