Fasting makes us stronger, not weaker
We don’t like to fast, but we do it. Hashem knows it’s good for us and — hungry, weak, and head-achey though we may be — we trust Him. Although we can never completely understand how the observance of a mitzvah transforms us, we do try to apply our intellect to the process as well.
For instance, we learn that the suffering of the fast itself helps to atone for our many sins, and is therefore more than worth the short-term discomfort it entails.
We can also appreciate how fasting helps us grow spiritually and emotionally. For example, learning to say “no” to our impulses is good for us as it develops strength of character — something that can enable us to choose right over wrong, delay gratification, and climb the mountains of life.
Fasting teaches us that, despite our inner cravings, we don’t have to have everything right now, and we’ll survive. We learn that we can wait, and while we’re waiting, we can tolerate discomfort without irreparable harm. We can see beyond this moment into the bigger, more cosmic picture, and from that vantage point, choose a life of value and substance.
By subduing our ego, our appetites, and our will, we learn that we’re strong, courageous, principled, optimistic, and idealistic.
In sum, while fasting shrinks our stomach, it grows our personality.
Fasting in Family Life
To harness all these benefits of fasting, we must begin to apply them in our daily life. An excellent place to start is within our homes, where we’re tested regularly as loved ones annoy, challenge, provoke, and trigger us. Our instinctive side allows our mouths to pop open and spew anger as mindlessly as our mouths pop open to consume food.
But having successfully fasted, we now know that we’re capable of mastering our instincts, of firmly closing our mouths and keeping them shut.
We could, if we wanted to, go on a criticism fast. We could commit to refraining from all corrections and unpleasant comments for a specific time period — an hour at first, or maybe for a full day. Later, we can extend the fast for several days at a time, or even a week. When our mouths are closed, our brains can find new ways of solving problems.
Fasting as Submission
Fasting can also lend us a philosophy of life that is ready to be implemented on the practical level. For example, our fast is an acknowledgment that we’re not in control. Yom Kippur humbles us, letting us know that we can’t go to the fridge when we want to because what matters here is only what Hashem wants.
We aren’t running this show; we’re guests and servants in Hashem’s palace. In fact, even when we thought we were in charge of something, we were never in charge.
So when we think we cleverly chose the right marriage partner, Hashem listens and chuckles, “You chose the color of the car model, I chose what’s under the hood.” Yes, our chassan’s face, his résumé, his family all seemed perfect. But after the chuppah, how quickly the “I didn’t sign up for this” music begins to play! The choice wasn’t ours after all.
And it’s the same with regard to the children Hashem sends us, and the family of origin He gives us, and the in-laws He sends along for the ride — it’s even the same with the people at work and on the block and in the community. All of them cross our paths only because Hashem wills it. He wants us to experience those encounters and relationships.
Fortunately, fasting has prepared us for the challenge. We remember now that pain isn’t permanent. This suffering will pass and happiness will come again. We remember how we helped ourselves cope through the fatigue, thirst, and hunger — by recalling that we were never totally helpless. There were and are thoughts we can think and actions we can take to lighten our suffering. We recall that Hashem ordained it and so it must be good, and this current life struggle is no different.
Fasting showed us that we still have so many blessings, even when we give up a day of food and drink. We can use that awareness and gratitude to get through the difficulties we face each day.
Yes, fasting is a great teacher. It makes us feel weak for a short time, but if we learn its lessons, it can make us strong forever.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 759)
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