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We have just descended from an incredible spiritual high imbibing the heilige oiros of Chanukah to arrive at a month void of any Yomim Tovim. Teves is a month, not merely lacking festive days, but in its place we face some of the most tragic days in our checkered history- first and foremost the fast of Asarah B’teves. This day, the tenth of Teves, is preceded by two other momentously sad days, the eighth and ninth days of Teves.

On the eighth day of this month (during a different time period), King Ptolemy of Egypt forced seventy of our Zekanim to render a Greek translation of the holy Torah. Although many miracles transpired during the translation - Hashem orchestrated that each of the seventy Zekanim, although secluded from one another, rendered identical interpretations. This event was regarded as a catastrophe for us as a nation. Translating the Torah into Greek negatively aided the Hellenists in their secularization of the Torah and allowed them to permeate our sacred culture.

On the ninth of Teves we, as a people, suffered a deeply profound loss upon the passing of Ezra Hasofer. Ezra was equated in greatness and stature to Moshe Rabeinu. Chazal tell us that had Moshe not given us the Torah, Ezra would have been next in line to hold that coveted position. Ezra served as the dynamic leader who led the Yidden on their return to Eretz Yisroel from Galus Bavel. He played a major role in facilitating the building of the second Beis Hamikdash. He spent much effort strengthening Yiddishkeit by means of various Takanos and innovations that are regarded as sacred as the Shulchan Aruch itself and therefore is credited with enabling the continuity of Klal Yisroel and its survival until this very day.

These two days alone, the eighth and the ninth, warranted being established as fast days, however, the difficulty of casting three consecutive days as fast days would have been too difficult to uphold. Instead, our Chazal rolled all three of these sad days into one-the fast of Asara B’Teves.

Asarah B’Teves is the day that marks the onset of the siege of Yerushalayim by Nevuchadnetzar, king of Bavel, and as the commencement of the Babylonian exile eventually leading to the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash and the permanent decline of our glorious nation enduring until this very day.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky in his sefer, Emes L’Yaakov, poses a penetrating question. We know that the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdosh and its preamble were catastrophic events and definite cause to mourn, however, wasn’t the tragedy substantially mitigated by the eventual return from the Galus Bavel and the rebuilding of the second Beis Hamikdash? The destruction of the second Bayis is definite cause to mourn and commemorate with fasts since this was the final, lasting blow that sent us into a seemingly endless G olus!

Rav Yaakov, with his uncanny deep understanding of our history, posits that the era of the second Beis Hamikdash was not an age of redemption  from the Galus Bavel which began prior to the first Beis Hamikdash going up in flames. In reality, it was decreed that the Yidden were to remain in Bavel many more then seventy years. However, Hashem recognized that most of the Yidden had already assimilated into the Babylonian people and many had already intermarried and established families through their mixed marriages, posing grave danger to our survival as a nation. It was clear in His divine vision that if the Galus extended any longer the last vestige of our people would be lost forever. Look at what occurred  to all of the ancient and medieval earlier nations! Memories of them exist today only in archaeological museums.  Hashem in His abundant mercy chose to shorten the Galus of Bavel and return the Yidden to their homeland to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash as a temporary respite. This era was to serve as a time to reinvigorate their foundations of Torah and Emunah and enable them to survive the long, drawn out exile. In essence, the entire duration of the second Beis Hamikdash, was an extension of the Galus that began in Bavel. The second Beis Hamikdash served as a rest-stop along the protracted Galus journey. The epoch of Bayis Sheini was an oasis positioned in the midst of Galus to allow us to gather strength for the long haul. It did not contain the same level of kedusha as the first Bayis nor did it experience the same exalted daily nissim, since its intended purpose was a different focus.

Rav Yaakov concludes that now it is abundantly clear why we fast commemorating the beginning of the downfall of the Bayis Rishon and the ensuing Galus. Because it never ended! We are still living it!

May Hashem end this Galus speedily in our days.

Writing with a pencil
A person only transgresses the melacha of writing if the writing is done in a way that will last. Therefore, min haTorah, it is only forbidden to write if one uses durable materials – such as ink or lead on paper, parchment or a wooden tablet. The writing does not need to endure forever in order to be considered a melacha ; it only needs to last for a considerable amount of time. (According to some opinions, the melacha is transgressed even if the writing lasts just for the duration of Shabbos .) Therefore, writing with a pencil is forbidden mid’oraisa even though most documents written in pencil will eventually be rubbed out. Even if one plans on erasing the writing immediately, the prohibition would still be violated because the writing was capable of lasting for an extended period of time. 

[ משנ"ב שמ, יח ו־כב (אות א), וביה"ל ד, ד"ה במשקין; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 49-48 ]

Writing with disappearing ink

Writing in a way that will not last is forbidden mid’rabonon . Examples include writing with disappearing ink, drawing a letter in the sand and writing on a frosted window. Writing with hidden ink which cannot be read unless it is held to a special light is also forbidden mid’rabonon . It is also prohibited ( mid’rabonon ) to hold up such a document to a source of heat that will cause the writing to reappear.

[ שו"ע שמ, ד, ומשנ"ב יח-כ; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 47 ]

Forming letters by hand
Forming letters without actually writing is permissible on Shabbos . A number of examples include: 1) drawing a letter in the air with a pointed finger, 2) forming a letter with one’s fingers, and 3) making motions in the sun in order to create a picture or letters in a shadow. It is nevertheless proper to refrain from writing this way. Some poskim prohibit placing an object in the sun with the intent of forming a picture or a letter. Others are lenient. It is also permissible to walk on soft ground, even though an imprint may be formed from the soles of one’s shoes.

[ שו"ע שמ, ד, ומשנ"ב כב; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 46 ]
  • One should not cut or break a cake or cookie that has letters written on it (e.g. with icing). The poskim disagree about whether a similar rule would apply to a cookie or piece of chocolate that has words or logos imprinted on it.

  • It is improper to read from a book that has words stamped on the sides of its pages. 

  • Writing two letters

  • Writing one letter to complete a sefer

  • Writing on two different pages
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this email is for learning purposes only. Please review the Mishna Berura and Biurim U'Musafim before making a halachic decision. Hebrew words are occasionally transliterated to enable a smoother reading of the text. Common Ashkenazi pronunciation is generally used in these cases.
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