In a generation where personal comfort is often at the forefront of our minds, and ensuring our physical luxurydetermines some of our choices and decisions, fasting seems somewhat out of place.
And according to the Alter Rebbe in Iggeres Hateshuva (chpt 3), voluntary fasting is in fact somewhat out of place.
When the Alter Rebbe explains different forms of repentance, which include fasting and other ascetic behaviors that were practiced at the time (end of 1700s), he explains that while such behaviors were appropriate in previous generations, when people were physically stronger and able to tolerate the physical toll, in contemporary generations people are simply no longer capable of baring such physical burdens. Fasting was then substituted in many situations, with the giving of charity.
Nevertheless, certain fast days remained on our calendar.
According to the Rambam (Laws of Fasts 4:1 and Code of Jewish Law Orach-Chaim 549-550) there are six fast days that are obligatory for healthy men and women. Most of them commemorating some form of destruction or calamityfor our people.
The purpose of fasting, according to the Rambam is “to arouse [their] hearts and initiate [them in] the paths of repentance”. Rambam believes that when we ponder the actions of our ancestors that led to the destruction that they endured,we will recognize our own short-comings, rectify them and thereby avert possible suffering.
The Talmud (Yoma 9B) states that the destructions that took place were a direct result of unwarranted and baseless hatred among the Jewish people. The Rebbe teaches us that if we do the converse, spread unwarranted and baseless love and peace; we will actually nullify the decree against us and end our current exile.
As the old saying goes, ‘I can love every person on earth, except the few people I actually know’. Spreading love and peace, by acting more kindly to the people we come in contact with, sounds easy enough but can be challenging at times.
What about those people who have wronged us? What about those people who treat us poorly? What about those people who make deficient decisions that impact our lives?
It might take more effort, but it is possible.
If we view anything that happens to us as part of a Divine plan, and all that is Divine is good (whether our limited understanding can comprehend it or not) our anger can subside. This is because the negative occurrence was not the choice of an individual person, rather part of a larger picture.
Sometimes trying to step out of a situation and re-evaluate it can help us overcome our negative responses. Perhaps the person who ill-treated you is lacking self esteem, contracted a painful disease, or is simply emotionally undeveloped. It doesn’t right his/her wrong, but it does give you a framework for viewing it. So you can see it with a clearer mind.
Ultimately, we all want to bring the best version of ourselves forward. You know; the kinder, compassionate, full of integrity, and goodwill person. And the way to do this is by choosing to do so. We determine who we want to be, because what we think, what we say, and what we do is independent of how others treat us.
So let’s take this step together, in honor of the 10th of Tevet and our collective desire to make the world a more loving and peaceful place.
Good luck with finals and have a wonderful, rejuvenating and safe break.
Picture of the week:
R' Menachem Schmidt leads students on a tour of the timeless pages of the Talmud