I sincerely believe that all fast days were instituted not only as mourning days for past events rather as appropriate times for introspection and correction in the present. Moreover, I think that each fast day contains a different guideline as to the specific issues that should be addressed. What should we be examining on the Gedaliah fast?
Gedaliah Ben Achikam was the Babylonian-appointed governor of the small community that survived the destruction of the first temple. Although the Jewish community had suffered a disaster of enormous proportions, Jewish life continued to a degree. This aggravated many people, some of them being Jews.
Yishmael Ben Netanya, himself a Jew, was sent by the king of Ammon to assassinate Gedaliah. The governor was warned of Yishmael’s intent but did not take defensive action, ruling the claim to be lashon hara (slander). The tragic end was that Gedaliah was murdered and the small community scattered into exile.
There is no question that Yishamel Ben Netanya committed an appalling crime, but never the less the sages criticized Gedaliah for not taking cautious measures against his killer. The Talmud teaches that although one should never fully accept slander, when being warned of someone’s malicious intentions he must take action to avoid the consequences. This is a complex dynamic to master, but it was expected of Gedaliah - a truly righteous and capable leader.
When we fast on this day, let us think deeply of our own ability to grasp halachic and moral complexities. May we attain the capability to do the right thing even when it may seem counter-intuitive.
The Gedaliah Fast and the State of Israel
Let us conclude with one more thought to ponder. One of the main reasons for mourning on this fast is that the last functioning Jewish community in the land of Israel had been shattered. That group’s circumstances were far from ideal, but we still appreciate its existence to the point that we commemorate its destruction. So too must we view the far more vibrant, flourishing and autonomic community that currently functions in Israel and appreciate its existence as a step towards the complete redemption!