As we finally close the curtain on Thanksgivukkah, we now turn to another more common anomaly in our Jewish calendar, which is the falling of a fast day, Asarah B’Tevet (Fast of the 10th of Tevet), next Friday, on Sabbath eve.
In fact, it is the only fast day that can occur on a Friday, for we read in the Book of Ezekiel (24:2), “This very day, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.” The king of Babylon referred to in the verse is Nebuchadnezer and as we read in Zechariah 8 and II Kings 25, the date remembered for the beginning of this siege is 10 Tevet. The rabbis deduced that the words “this very day” in this verse teaches us that we do not push off the fast of the 10th of Tevet even if it is on Friday (Yom Kippur, Tishah B’Av, and the other minor fasts can never occur on the eve of Shabbat.) While Asarah B’Tevet’s falling on Erev Shabbat may seem not as glorious or perhaps as interesting as a once-in-a lifetime confluence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, the falling of this so-called “minor” fast day on Erev Shabbat asks us to go beyond our normal preparations for Shabbat. Customs vary about whether one can or should pray the afternoon Minchah service earlier in the day or if one can daven Minchah immediately before Shabbat. (How jarring might it be to have a normal rather quick Shabbat eve Minchah become a Minchah with a Torah Reading!)
The halachah is pretty uniform in its articulation of the importance of the preparation of Shabbat.
For example, we learn in the Shulkhan Arukh Orach Hayim 250:1 that one “should make a point of personally preparing for Shabbat for this accords honor to Shabbat. Rav Chisdah used to cut up the vegetables. Rabbah and Rav Yosef would chop the firewood. Rabbi Zeirah would light the fire. Rav Nachman would put away the weekday tableware and take out the Shabbos tableware. Every person should learn from them: No one should say, ‘It’s beneath me [to perform menial tasks of preparation]’ – it should be an honor for one to accord honor to Shabbat.”
This shifting of our mindset next Friday brings to mind a comment made by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik who wrote that his heart “aches for the forgotten ‘Erev Shabbat’ (eve of the Sabbath)… who will go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls? There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!” (“On Repentance,” pp. 97-98).
As diaspora Jews, our challenge of Shabbat preparation, especially on this Shabbat where Shabbat starts the earliest in the year, is great. Next Friday, as we commemorate an important beginning of a dark period of our history, let us commit ourselves to be even more mindful of our commitment to preserving Erev Shabbat for as we know about Shabbat itself, more than Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews. All the more so we need to be spiritually prepared for the sanctity of time and space that Shabbat affords us.
Wishing all of you a Shabbat (and preparation thereof) of peace and joy.