After the destruction of the first Beit ha-Mikdash, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, as governor of Judah. Gedaliah was a wise ruler. He encouraged the people to cultivate the fields and vineyards and restore the land. In theory, the country could have recovered from the tragedy of the destruction. But the earlier prophecy of complete destruction was soon fulfilled. Gedaliah’s reign did not last for long.
Ishmael son of Nethaniah, a Judean military commander and member of the royal family, led a group of captains to the administrative capital of Yehuda, Mizpah, and assassinated Gedaliah during a feast.
This event spelled the end of the small remnant of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. The Prophet Irmiyahu encouraged them to stay in the Land of Yehuda even after the death of Gedaliah, promising prosperity and protection from the Above. But they soon fled to Egypt ending Jewish autonomy in Judea.
A few years later there was a political upheaval in Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar took advantage of the situation and invaded the country. Most of the Jews who had previously sought refuge in Egypt perished in this war.
In memory of the assassination of Gedaliah we fast on the third day of Tishrei, the Fast of Gedaliah. Despite its name, this is not just a fast in memory of a wise ruler. It’s one of the four fasts instituted to commemorate the chain of events that led to the destruction of the Beit ha-Mikdash and exile.
With the arrival of Mashiach, the fast of Gedaliah will become a day of joy and feasting (Zechariah 8:19).
More about the days Gedaliah and the subsequent events:
- The Book of Melachim II, 25:22-26
- The Book of Irmeyau, 40: 5-43.