Gedaliah Who?

by Eitan Tako

During the Ten Days of Repentance, right after Rosh HaShana and before Yom Kippur, hides a fast that marks an occasion from 2,500 years ago.

This is the fast of Gedaliah.

Gedaliah was the governor of the autonomous Jews left in Judea after the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE. His efforts to bring back Jews to the Judea and rebuild Jewish organized life had just started to yield when Gedaliah was assassinated on the day of Rosh Hashanah by a political rival named Yishmael, who wanted to take over his position. Gedaliah was buried on Gimel Tishrei (2 days later). This day has been marked since as the last stage of the fall of the Judean kingdom.

The immediate result of the assassination was the annihilation of Jewish autonomous life in Judea, and in the land of Israel. Many of the Jews from Judea fled the country to Egypt fearing revenge of Babylonians. The political assassination of Gedaliah is a tangible and relevant tile in the mosaic of our history and traditions. A tile that marks the end of one era and a beginning of another.

The extinction of the Jewish settlement in Judea was brought upon by our own wrongdoings – our feelings of envy, intrigue, greed, power, and unfounded hatred.

Looking back at this, we can learn many things about our people and history. One of those things is how powerful our collective memory is and what it stands for. Our ability to remember and mark an event from 2,500 years ago is remarkable. The challenge this memory brings upon us is how to make it relevant to our lives today. How can we examine history and learn from that history?

Gedaliah and Yizhak Rabin, who was assassinated 19 years ago, share many similarities. Both were leaders in time of crisis for the Jewish nation, both were struggling in the process of building a nation, both brought and represented a hope of a better future, and both were assassinated by a political rival, following unfounded hatred, which changed the trajectory of the Jewish state.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the nineteen years that have followed demonstrate how we as a people never fully learned from the assassination of Gedaliah. We’ve allowed history to repeat itself. I mean this about not only the act of assassination, but the way we allowed and still allow for unfounded hatred to exist in our lives and our society. This has been a growing concern in Israel in the past months, as left wing protesters were targeted, attacked, delegitimized and singled out as anti-Zionists.

Then as now, the state of the organized Jewish life in the land of Israel (or the lack of it) has a tremendous impact on life of Jews in the diaspora. With the coming of the New Year, my challenge and call for action to you is: don’t let history repeat itself, eradicate unfounded hatred and influence the life and reality in Israel (yes – make aliyah). Acknowledge that you have the right and privilege to influence the future of the Jewish nation and people.

Posted in Rosh haShana 5775.