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Today on the Jewish calendar marks the tenth day of the month of Tevet. It is a fast day, and is an important historical milestone in the relationship between the Jewish people and a once mighty empire: Babylon (referred to later by the Greeks as Mesopotamia, and Iraq since the middle ages).

Today, 2608 years ago, the Babylonian military, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. This ultimately culminated in the the Babylonians destroying the First Bet Hamikdash (Temple) which was built by King Shlomo (Solomon), razing Jerusalem and exiling nearly the entire population of Israel to Babylon.

This somber day was later declared a fast day, one of four fast days on the Jewish calendar commemorating four pivotal events related to the destruction of both 'Batei Mikdash' (Temples) in Jerusalem.

While this certainly marked a nadir in Jewish-Babylonian relations, the relationship was already old and storied; the very first Jew, Abraham, was born in Babylon. Abraham would flee Babylon for modern day Turkey to practice his religion openly, and would later battle a Babylonian ruler who was holding Abraham's brother in law captive. 

Nevuchadnezzar's exile of the Jews to Babylon would also launch an era of tremendous Jewish growth, community life, business and Torah scholarship in that country. The Talmud (Kidushin 71a)even writes that the Jewish community in Babylon became one of greater stature than that of Israel itself. 

Which brings us to a silver lining of 'Asara B'Tevet' - the fast of the tenth day of Tevet.

Everything in the Torah is meant as a message, a life lesson for us to learn from. The Talmud writes that the two Temples were destroyed because the Jews were not respectful enough of each other. Based on this, the Kabbalah and Chassidut (Chassidic philosophy) explain that the Babylonian siege, which began on today's date, was a hint as to what was causing these unfortunate events, and what the Jews needed to do to get back on the right track. In a siege the inhabitants of the city could not leave. They were 'stuck' with each other.

That message stuck. Since that winter day in Jerusalem thousands of years ago, the ability and determination of the Jews to maintain their communities, faith, families and most importantly their support of and commitment to each other shone throughout the millennia. Despite great difficulties, Jews have been famous for their support and care for one another. There are of course exceptions to this, but the trajectory of Jewish unity since the times of the Babylonian and then Roman exiles has been upward, resulting in the very fact that thriving Jewish communities still exist. As the saying goes, Am Yisrael Chai.

Rabbi Avrohom