What is the real purpose of Fasting?

            August 2012    
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Public Fast Days: Why do we Fast?

By Avi Lazerson

The “Code of Jewish Law” by Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried, known also as the condensed Code of Jewish law (Hebrew: Kitzur Shulcahn Aruch) was a simplified version of the big and complicated Code of Jewish Law (Hebrew: Shulcahn Aruch). It has been used for generations by those who although lack the scholarship to navigate the complicated Shulcahn Aruch yet wish to observe and understand the various aspects of Jewish law and conduct. In it is contained much wisdom that is condensed down to serve the average non-learned Jew.

Regarding the fast days, in chapter 121, Rabbi Gazfried explains:

    “The Prophets have enacted a law to fast on those days on which tragic events occurred. The object of the fast is to stir our heats to repentance and to serve as a reminder of our own evil deeds as well as those of our ancestors, which caused them, as well as us, all these troubles.”

It is important to notice that the emphasis of the fast is not the part of refraining from food as much as it is for introspection, as the author states, “the object of the fast is to stir our heats to repentance”. Which means that the fast is merely a vehicle to bring us closer to G-d, but is not the essence or chief obligation of the day.

The author continues:

    “By remembering these events, we will improve our ways, as it is written, (Leviticus: 26:40) 'If they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers.' Therefore it is our sacred duty to examine our evil deeds and to repent, for the fast is not the main thing, as it is written concerning the people of Nineveh, (Jonah 3:10) 'And G-d saw their works' and our Rabbis of blessed memory said (Talmud Taanit 16a): 'It is not written, 'and G-d saw their sackcloth and their fast,” but “and G-d saw their works, that they had turned from their evil way.'”

Here we see clearly that the fast, whereas important, is not the prime importance but rather a catalyst to start a process of introspection and personal reflection on the individual's deeds and actions that he/she may find his errors and mend them. A fast which is only characterized by refraining from food has missed the desired goal. The goal being not a day with out eating, but a day that is used for recognition of personal error creating a resolve that this error never be repeated again.

As the author continues:

    “The fast is intended only as a preparation for repentance. Therefore, those people who fast and spend the day in taking walks and in worthless matters are adhering to an accessory and over look the principal thing.”

Truly, the author is reminding us that repentance is the chief goal of the fast, not of food deprivation. There is no tangible benefit to the Jew if all that is gained is refraining from eating during the day since after the fast in the evening he will continue to eat to his fill. The main point and chief benefit of the fast is the introspective thinking that brings one to see sins and faults, to see actions that were improper and to take a vow never to repeat them again. The fast is the mechanism that should cause us to begin to reflect on our personal actions and to make certain that we never continue to do such actions again.

May we all merit to contemplate during these fast days and repent for our sins that G-d in His Ultimate and unlimited kindness shall grant us the ultimate pleasure of seeing our holy temple rebuilt.


from the August 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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