Finding meaning in the Fast of Gedaliah
Today, Wednesday September 19, the day following Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), is a “minor” Jewish fast (meaning it’s only from sunrise to sundown) known as the Fast of Gedaliah.
The story is told in the biblical book Jeremiah of how, after the Babylonian conquest of the Near East, the Empire set up local semi-autonomous governorships. In the former Judean kingdom, the Jewish governor was Gedaliah ben Achikam. The short version is that after being told about an assassination plot against him, Gedaliah rejected the warning as slander and proceeded to invite the plotter (a descendent of the last Jewish king) into his home for dinner, where upon Gedaliah was then killed. The ensuing political chaos led to the final collapse of the last vestige of historical Jewish self-government.
The Fast of Gedaliah is the only national Jewish mourning day that marks the loss of a specific individual. The rabbinic tradition teaches that the fast is to remind us that the death of a righteous person is akin to the burning of God’s house (most other Jewish fasts are tied to the temple’s destruction).
In our time, after the murders of such folks as the Rev. Martin Luther King, the Mahatma Ghandi, Malcolm X, the Kennedy brothers, Harvey Milk, and Yitzchak Rabin... this day has been embraced by some as one with broader meaning as an opportunity for reflection on the consequences of political violence and the implications for social movements when an individual leader is suddenly taken from us.
Even if you aren't fasting today, I invite you to join in the day through reflection. Take a few minutes today by yourself or in conversation with a colleague to reflect on these questions:
- When, in your own experience, has a cause you cared about been advanced or set back by violent action?
- Is violence ever a legitimate tool in the pursuit of social justice?
- When have you experienced the sudden loss of a leader (either by death or departure) and how did that impact your cause?
- What lessons or reflection can you take from these experiences to inform your work and in your life?
Wishing you a meaningful day in this season of reflection.