1. The Rambam writes that a fast is “of the ways of repentance; when trouble befalls the Jews... all should know evil has befallen them because of their evil ways... this will cause the trouble to be removed from them” (i.e. when they repent). Continuing, he writes “there are days on which all Yisroel fast, because of the trouble that happened then — to awaken (people’s) hearts to the ways of repentance... that in remembering these things we return to good.”

In other words, on a fast a person must make a self-evaluation and search his deeds to mend his ways: remorse over the past and good resolutions for the future — especially in those things which were the reason for the fast.

But how can Torah, which has commanded us to “guard your soul exceedingly” — meaning one must stay healthy — establish fasts which afflict one’s body? We must perforce say that the purpose of the fast is not for affliction G‑d forbid, but it is “of the ways of repentance.” Through repentance (which is connected with affliction of the fast), one reaches a level infinitely higher than before, making the affliction worthwhile.

To clarify further: Through proper soul-searching one conducts oneself in the manner of ‘remorse over the past and good resolutions for the future.’ One rectifies all faults of one’s previous G‑dly service. A baal teshuvah’s (repentant) service is loftier than a tzaddik’s, for not only does he rectify past faults, but his service itself is loftier. A repentant must be much more careful in his conduct than a tzaddik, and this continuous watchfulness is the idea of sanctity in one’s (everyday) life. Hence, the sanctity in the service of a baal teshuvah is much greater than that of a tzaddik.

Now we understand why we have fasts although it afflicts one’s body. Through this very affliction a Jew is raised to a level infinitely higher than previously (the result of repentance, as explained above); and thus the affliction which caused this is seen as a pleasure (for without it one could not reach the heights on which one now is). The greatest pleasure a Jew can have is when his pleasure is G‑d’s pleasure. Our Sages have commented that G‑d, as it were, says: “I have great pleasure that I commanded and My will was done.” Man’s pleasure is G‑d’s pleasure. Since Jews consider their soul to be primary and their bodies secondary, their pleasure (in G‑d’s pleasure) affects also their bodies, for they are subservient to their souls (whose entire pleasure is G‑d’s): the affliction of the body is actually a delight for it, since through it a Jew reaches an infinitely higher level.

2. In the prophecies of Yeshayah we find that a fast is called “a day desirable to G‑d.” On all days of the year G‑d helps a Jew fulfill his good resolutions. On a fast, “a day desirable to G‑d,” a Jew receives extra assistance for the good resolutions made on a fast day.

A fast day being “a desirable day to G‑d” refers to all the four fasts — “the fast of the fourth month (17th of Tammuz), the fast of the fifth month (9th of Av), the fast of the seventh month (Tzom Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth month (10th of Teves).” There is, however, a special distinction attached to the fast of the seventh month, Tzom Gedaliah.

Tzom Gedaliah is on the 3rd of Tishrei, during the Ten Days of Repentance. Our Sages (Rosh Hashanah 18a) teach that the verse “Seek the L‑rd while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” refers to these days, when G‑d is able to be “found” by and is “near” to every Jew. So close is G‑d then that an individual in these days is reckoned equal to the power of a congregation in other days. We can understand then how great is the power of a congregation in these days, if even an individual is equal to a congregation in other times. Thus we see how great is Tzom Gedaliah which is in the Ten Days of Repentance: The Ten Days themselves are a favorable time, and thus Tzom Gedaliah, which is “a day desirable to G‑d,” is a favorable time within a favorable time.

As explained above, a fast is “of the ways of repentance.” Hence the special distinction of Tzom Gedaliah is expressed also in the general concept of repentance. Tzom Gedaliah follows the service of Elul, the month of repentance. During the entire month of Elul we say the chapter of Tehillim containing the words “In your behalf my heart says ‘seek My countenance;’ Your countenance, L‑rd, I seek” — the idea of repentance. In Elul itself, extra vitality for repentance comes from the 18th of Elul. The follow the days of Selichos, when once again a higher level of repentance is achieved (especially this year, when we say Selichos on the greatest number of days possible — eight).

Following the heights of Elul comes the Ten Days of Repentance, starting from Rosh Hashanah. Repentance on Rosh Hashanah is teshuvah m’ahavah repentance that springs from love (of G‑d). Since the service of repentance must always be ever higher — “one always rises in holiness” — the repentance of Tzom Gedaliah which follows Rosh Hashanah must be higher than that of Rosh Hashanah! Hence we see how the special distinction of Tzom Gedaliah expresses itself in the service of repentance.

3. On a fast, one must ponder on the cause of the fast and then repent. Tzom Gedaliah was fixed as a fast day because “on that day Gedaliah ben Achikom was murdered and the glowing ember of Yisroel was extinguished.” [He was the Jewish governor of Eretz Yisroel after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, and his murder drew the wrath of Nevuchadnezzar upon the remnants of the Jews in Eretz Yisroel. Now there was no more hope for independent rule.] He was murdered by Yishmael ben Natanyah, a descendent of the royal house of Yehudah — a fellow Jew. Instead of practicing love of a fellow Jew, Yishmael did the reverse. We see then that the cause of this fast was the exact opposite of Ahavas Yisroel, love of a fellow Jew.

This is the difference between Tzom Gedaliah and the other three fasts. The other fasts were caused by the undesirable conduct of Jews; but the actual punishment for which the fast was established was an action by a non-Jew. Tzom Gedaliah was established as a fast because of the action of a Jew.

Hence, although Ahavas Yisroel is a general principle in the Torah (“What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow: this is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation”), and therefore is associated with all the fasts; nevertheless, it has special emphasis on Tzom Gedaliah, when the reason for the fast was conduct antithetical to Ahavas Yisroel.

“In remembering these things we return to good” — Tzom Gedaliah is the appropriate time to increase in one’s Ahavas Yisroel. In addition, the teshuvah on Tzom Gedaliah, as explained previously, is on a lofty level, following the service of Elul and Rosh Hashanah. When a Jew prays to G‑d for His blessings, including teshuvah, G‑d surely fulfills his request. Nevertheless, one must provide a fit receptacle for those blessings. Since G‑d’s blessings are beyond all limitations, the receptacle must likewise be beyond limitations. This is Ahavas Yisroel, which must be in the manner of “Love your fellow as yourself;” just as one’s love for oneself is limitless, so must be one’s love to his fellow.

4. Everything must be connected to practical deed. In order to ensure the fulfillment of good resolutions in Ahavas Yisroel, there must be some concrete expression of it. But is not the command to “Love your fellow as yourself” contrary to human nature? Yet if G‑d demands such conduct, He surely gives Jews the strength to fulfill it. And so it is in this case, where we already have a precedent in this matter: “Such a thing already existed at the Giving of the Torah (Mattan Torah).” As a preparation to that event, Scripture states: “Yisroel encamped there before the mountain.” Our Sages, commenting on the singular tense (in Hebrew) of “encamped,” explain that Jews encamped ‘as one man with one heart: Their encampment before the mountain where the Torah was given effected unity and Ahavas Yisroel among the Jews. This unity of the Jews was effected through the preparation to Mattan Torah. We can imagine then how great was the unity through Torah itself. Hence, the appropriate way to effect Ahavas Yisroel among Jews is to unite all Jews in the writing of a Sefer Torah. Through each and every Jew buying a letter in a Sefer Torah they are united in the eternal bond of Torah.

The Alter Rebbe taught that we must “live with the times” — with the lesson derived from the weekly parshah, especially the daily portion. Today’s portion of parshas Vayeilech talks of the idea of writing a Sefer Torah. It states (31:19) “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the children of Yisroel.” And, as it continues “so that it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their descendants,” on which Rashi comments: “This is an assurance to Yisroel that the Torah will not be forgotten by their descendants...” In other words, the writing of the Torah is the strength by which Jews is all generations fulfill Torah and mitzvos. And from this verse, we learn the obligation of each Jew to write a Sefer Torah for himself.

A Sefer Torah is comprised of 600,000 letters, corresponding to the 600,000 all encompassing souls from which all Jewish souls derive. Hence all Jews are included in a single Sefer Torah. Nevertheless, more than one Sefer Torah should be written, so that every Jew should be able to buy a letter in a Sefer Torah.

In addition, there are differing customs in the exact configuration of the letters — Ashkenazic, Sefardic, Lurianic etc. Hence more than one Sefer Torah must be written, so that all Jews can participate in the writing of a Sefer Torah according to their custom.

We find something similar to this in the times of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe completed the writing of the Torah on the last day of his life, “and gave it to the priests the sons of Levi” (31:9). Besides this Sefer Torah, Moshe wrote another twelve Sifrei Torah, one for each tribe. The 13th Sefer Torah (i.e. the original) was kept in the Mishkan, and all the other Sifrei Torah were checked from it.

We see then there were twelve separate Sifrei Torah, one for each tribe, who had their own unique path of G‑dly service — similar to our times, when there are differing customs. Nevertheless, “these and these are the words of the living G‑d” — unity and Ahavas Yisroel. This is seen in the one Sefer Torah (the thirteenth kept in the Mishkan) from which all others were checked.

In practical terms: All Jews should unite together by participating in the writing of a Sefer Torah. More than one may be written, each according to its custom. Those who have already participated in one Sefer Torah, can participate in another, for in sanctity, repetition enhances. The resolutions to fulfill all this is on the “desirable day” of Tzom Gedaliah, and should be fulfilled as quickly and enthusiastically as possible — to immediately start writing the Sefer Torah, and finish it as early as possible.

May it be G‑d’s will that through all of the above we speedily merit to learn the Torah of Moshiach from Moshiach. Then we merit to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘Hakhel’ in the Holy Land, “the land which... the eyes of the L‑rd your G‑d are constantly on it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” — “a great congregation shall return here.” This will be with the ‘whole people’ (the entire “great congregation”) in the ‘whole land’ (Eretz Yisroel in its entirety) with the ‘whole Torah’ (study of the Torah of Moshiach). Through these three things we merit to hasten the true and complete redemption of all of the children of Yisroel through our righteous Moshiach.