לזכות לרפואה שלמה
לרבקה בת חיה, תמימה בת שרה אמנו, שולמית בת פייגא ליבא ושרה בת רחל
בתוך שאר חולי ישראל
Masechet Taanit deals with fast days and with rain. The connection between the two, at least in Talmudic times, is clear – the most common reason for decreeing a communal fast was a delay in the beginning of the winter rain in Israel.
Devarim 11:10-12 tells us:
כִּי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא־שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ לֹא כְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִוא אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִשָּׁם אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע אֶת־זַרְעֲךָ וְהִשְׁקִיתָ בְרַגְלְךָ כְּגַן הַיָּרָק׃ וְהָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ אֶרֶץ הָרִים וּבְקָעֹת לִמְטַר הַשָּׁמַיִם תִּשְׁתֶּה־מָּיִם׃ אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ תָּמִיד עֵינֵי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה׃
|For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors, like a vegetable garden; but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven. It is a land which the LORD
your God looks after, on which the LORD your God always keeps His eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end.
Rain does not fall year-round in Israel; rather, there is a “rainy season,” from late fall through winter. If there is little or no rain then – chances are that there will be no meaningful rain until the next fall. This could lead to drought and famine, and could be catastrophic. Thus, we can understand the deep concern about rain and the impetus to ordain a communal fast (as a sign of, and motivator for, repentance) in the agricultural society of Talmudic Israel.
As the Rambam (Laws on Fast Days, 1:1-4) writes:
מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מִן הַתּוֹרָה לִזְעֹק וּלְהָרִיעַ בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁתָּבוֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר י ט) “עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרוֹת”. כְּלוֹמַר כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁיָּצֵר לָכֶם כְּגוֹן בַּצֹּרֶת וְדֶבֶר וְאַרְבֶּה וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶן זַעֲקוּ עֲלֵיהֶן וְהָרִיעוּ:
וְדָבָר זֶה מִדַּרְכֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה הוּא. שֶׁבִּזְמַן שֶׁתָּבוֹא צָרָה וְיִזְעֲקוּ עָלֶיהָ וְיָרִיעוּ יֵדְעוּ הַכּל שֶׁבִּגְלַל מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם הָרָעִים הוּרַע לָהֶן כַּכָּתוּב (ירמיה ה כה) “עֲוֹנוֹתֵיכֶם הִטּוּ” וְגוֹ’. וְזֶה הוּא שֶׁיִּגְרֹם לָהֶם לְהָסִיר הַצָּרָה מֵעֲלֵיהֶם:
אֲבָל אִם לֹא יִזְעֲקוּ וְלֹא יָרִיעוּ אֶלָּא יֹאמְרוּ דָּבָר זֶה מִמִּנְהַג הָעוֹלָם אֵרַע לָנוּ וְצָרָה זוֹ נִקְרָה נִקְרֵית. הֲרֵי זוֹ דֶּרֶךְ אַכְזָרִיּוּת וְגוֹרֶמֶת לָהֶם לְהִדַּבֵּק בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם הָרָעִים. וְתוֹסִיף הַצָּרָה צָרוֹת אֲחֵרוֹת. הוּא שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה (ויקרא כו כז) “וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי” (ויקרא כו כח) “וְהָלַכְתִּי גַּם אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם בַּחֲמַת קֶרִי”. כְּלוֹמַר כְּשֶׁאָבִיא עֲלֵיכֶם צָרָה כְּדֵי שֶׁתָּשׁוּבוּ אִם תֹּאמְרוּ שֶׁהִיא קֶרִי אוֹסִיף לָכֶם חֲמַת אוֹתוֹ קֶרִי:
וּמִדִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים לְהִתְעַנּוֹת עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁתָּבוֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר עַד שֶׁיְּרֻחֲמוּ מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם. וּבִימֵי הַתַּעֲנִיּוֹת הָאֵלּוּ זוֹעֲקִין בִּתְפִלּוֹת וּמִתְחַנְּנִים וּמְרִיעִין בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת בִּלְבַד. וְאִם הָיוּ בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ מְרִיעִין בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת וּבְשׁוֹפָר. הַשּׁוֹפָר מְקַצֵּר וְהַחֲצוֹצְרוֹת מַאֲרִיכוֹת. שֶׁמִּצְוַת הַיּוֹם בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת. וְאֵין תּוֹקְעִין בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת וְשׁוֹפָר כְּאֶחָד אֶלָּא בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהילים צח ו) “בַּחֲצֹצְרוֹת וְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר הָרִיעוּ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ ה'”:
|It is a positive commandment from the Torah to cry out and to sound trumpets for all troubles that come upon the community; as it is stated (Numbers 10:9), “upon an enemy who attacks you and you sound trumpets.” That is to say, [with] every matter that troubles you — such as famine, a plague, locusts and that which is similar to them — cry out about them, and sound the trumpets.
And this thing is from the ways of repentance. For when a trouble comes and they yell out about it and sound [trumpets], everyone will know that it was because of their evil deeds that this bad was done to them. As it is stated (Jeremiah 5:25), “It is your iniquities that have diverted, etc.” And this is what will cause them to remove the trouble from upon them.
But if they do not cry out and sound [trumpets], but rather say, “What has happened to us is the way of the world, and this trouble is merely happenstance” — it is surely the way of cruelty, and it causes them to stick to their bad deeds. And the trouble will add other troubles. About this is it written in the Torah (Leviticus 26: 27-28), “but walk arbitrarily with Me. Then I will (also) walk arbitrarily with you in fury.” That is to say, “When I will bring upon you troubles — if you will say that it is arbitrary, I will increase the fury of this arbitrariness.”
And it is (a rabbinic commandment) from the words of the Scribes to fast for each trouble that comes upon the community until they are granted mercy from the Heavens. And on these fast days, we yell out with prayers and supplicate and sound only the trumpets. And if they were in the Temple, they would sound trumpets and the shofar. The shofar blows short and the trumpets blow long, since the commandment of the day is with trumpets. And we only blow with the trumpets and the shofar at the same time in the Temple, as it is stated (Psalms 78:6), “With trumpets and the blast of the horn raise a shout before the Lord, the King.”
Since the primary focus of a fast day is as a means of attaining atonement, the Masechet does not deal extensively with the laws of fasting, but rather with the other aspects of the day. As Rav Steinsaltz notes:
|The fundamental idea of fast days is based on the assumption that events in the world do not happen by chance and for no reason. Rather, just as there are physical causes for occurrences, there are also spiritual and moral explanations. In general terms, reward is bestowed for good deeds and punishment for evil period human action is scrutinized by Divine Providence, again both on the level of the individual as well as that of the community, or indeed the entire nation. Therefore, any misfortune visited upon a congregation or an individual has a purpose and a meaning. Sometimes it serves as a warning that one’s actions are corrupt must be amended; on other occasions it is a punishment for sins, as explained at length by that or at in the chapter of rebuke (Leviticus, chapter 26 ). Accordingly, in every time of trouble and distress, one should increase his prayers, repent, and make amends for any wrongs he has committed. He should sanctify himself so that his previous transgressions will be forgiven, and pray and beseech God to avert the evil decree.|
The concern about rain engendered two Rabbinic commandments:
- The insertion of prayers for rain in the daily tefilla (משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם in the second blessing of the Amida, and a request for rain in the ninth (ותן טל ומטר לברכה) based on the season
- The declaration of fast days if the rain was delayed
Our short Masechet covers the following topics:
Chapter 1: מאימתי (2a – 15a)
- The two rain references in the daily Amida and when each starts
- The special series of fast days decreed if rain doesn’t fall by a certain date. This is an escalating complex cycle, which intensifies as the drought continues
- The nature and importance of rain; dates for rainfall
- The relationship between rain and the people’s spiritual status
- The berachot recited when there is a drought-breaking rainfall
- Torah study (since water and rain are common metaphors for Torah)
Chapter 2: סדר תעניות כיצד (15a – 18b)
- The prayer service when a drought-related fast is observed
- A discussion of Megillat Taanit (the list of minor holidays observed during the Second Temple)
Chapter 3: סדר תעניות אלו (18b – 26a)
- Fast days decreed for other disasters (abnormal rainfall, plagues, locusts, sieges, etc…) whether occurring to community that is fasting or in solidarity with another community
- Individual fasts
|Yeshaya 58 (read as the Haftara on Yom Kippur) describes the true purpose of the fast:
הֲלוֹא זֶה צוֹם אֶבְחָרֵהוּ פַּתֵּחַ חַרְצֻבּוֹת רֶשַׁע הַתֵּר אֲגֻדּוֹת מוֹטָה וְשַׁלַּח רְצוּצִים חׇפְשִׁים וְכׇל־מוֹטָה תְּנַתֵּקוּ׃
No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke-To let the oppressed go free; To break off every yoke.
- Stories about inspirational people and miracles that happened to them.
Chapter 4: בשלשה פרקים (26a – 31a)
- The מעמדות fasts and services. During the Temple era, the entire nation was divided into 24 groups, known as maamadot. These groups represented the nation by attending the public korbanot in the Temple and fasting and praying that the sacrifices be accepted.
- The national tragedies commemorated on the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.
- Laws pertaining to Tisha Be’Av.
- The most joyous days in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur and the 15th of Av.
|Hoshea 14:6 describes Hashem’s response if we accede to his request for our repentance (שובה ישראל – 14:2)|
אֶהְיֶה כַטַּל לְיִשְׂרָאֵל יִפְרַח כַּשּׁוֹשַׁנָּה וְיַךְ שׇׁרָשָׁיו כַּלְּבָנוֹן׃
|I will be to Israel like dew; He shall blossom like the lily, He shall strike root like a Lebanon tree.|
 There are other reasons (impending disasters) for which fasts are decreed, which are also discussed in this Masechet.
 The start date for ותן טל ומטר לברכה differs in Israel and outside it. In Israel, it begins on the 7th of Cheshvan, while outside, it starts 60 days after the tekufa – at Arvit of the 4th or 5th of December (if the oncoming year is a solar leap year, it starts on the 5th). We will learn more about this on 10a.
 We just learned about this in Rosh Hashana 18b!
 See Shlomo’s extensive list in I Melachim chapter 8.
 This chapter is sometimes referred to as פרקא דחסידא (The chapter of the pious ones) because of these anecdotes