The next 32 simanim in volume XI of the Mishnah Berura are sourced in the Gemara Maseches Taanis (the tractate called “Fasts”). Basically, there are three types of fasts, all derived from a single pasuk/verse (or two) – and revolving around a single concept – written in the Torah and expounded by the Oral law. In this lesson, we will learn the pasuk, its Oral interpretation, and a brief overview of the three types of fasts. We will then chart a course for how to cover these simanim – some more abridged and some more in-depth.
(We give credit to the Artscroll Mishnah Series and the Schottenstein Talmud, in part, for the material in this lesson.)
“When the adversary oppresses you, you shall blow with the trumpets.” (Bamidbar 10:9)
The Oral law:
“It is a positive commandment, of Biblical staus, to cry out to G-d and sound the trumpets over any disaster that befalls the community, as it is said, ‘When the adversary...’; i.e. if a calamity befalls you, such as drought, pestilence, locust plague or the like, cry out over it and sound the trumpets. This is one of the paths of repentance. When a disaster occurs and the people cry out over it and sound the trumpets, everyone will recognize that it is because of their evil deeds that the misfortune befell them… And doing this will cause G-d to relieve you of the calamity… From Rabbinic law comes the requirement to fast whenever a tragedy befalls the community, until mercy is granted from Heaven. During these days the people cry out in prayer, plead and sound the trumpets.” (See Rambam Hilchos Taaniyos 1:1-4)
Three different types of fasts:
1) The fasts which were decreed by the prophets in commemoration of national calamities which occurred on those days: Tisha b’Av (9 Av), Seventeenth of Tamuz, Tenth of Teves and ‘Tzom Gedalia’ (3 Tishrei). [Note: Adjunct to this is the practice of ‘zecher l’churban’ (lit. in commemoration of the destruction) which are certain rituals and restrictions the Sages instituted to keep the fact of our exile in reality.]
2) Public fasts which could theoretically be ordained by a Rabbinic ‘Beis Din’ (legislative body) for a community or an entire region, because of lack of rainfall, epidemic or the threat of military attack, or the like.
3) Individual fasts (excerpted from Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 127:1) “Just as it is a mitzvah for the community to fast and to pray in times of trouble, may it never happen, so it is a mitzvah for every individual, if, G-d forbid, any trouble befalls him, for example, a member of this family is sick or he lost his way, or he is confined in prison on false charges, then it is a mitzvah for him to fast and to pray to G-d, and to plead for mercy from Him, may His Name be blessed, that He should deliver him… This suffering is one of the ways that lead to repentance, for a person should not say, G-d forbid, his troubles just happened by chance, as it is said (Vayikra 26:23-24): ‘If you treat My acts as chance, then I will treat you with the fury of chance’, which means, when I bring distress on you to cause you to repent and you will say that this happened by chance, then I will add to your suffering the fury of the same ‘chance’! Man must know that because of his sin, G-d brought on him all this trouble; he should, therefore, examine his deeds and return to G-d, and He will have mercy on him.”
The first type (for mourning over the destruction of the Temple) of fast is a major part of our annual calendar observances, and for that, we will learn the halachos in detail. The second type public fasts ordained because of a current threat etc.) virtually no longer exists, so we will deal only briefly with some of its major concepts. The third type (individual fasts over personal suffering) is still applicable, though not common, and we will deal with it in an abridged form as well.