Tisha B’Av Part II: Fasting

How does fasting create spiritual connection to G-d?

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I understand many Jews will be fasting at the end of this three-week period on the day of Tisha B’Av. What is the significance of this fasting, and how could being hungry create a spiritual connection and bring people closer to G-d?

Brenda L.

Dear Brenda,

The two fasts we observe, at the beginning and the end of the three-week period mentioned in last week’s column, are called Shiva Asar B’Tamuz (the 17th day of the month of Tamuz) and Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av). 

The period in between is referred to as the Three Weeks of Mourning. This period was established because of the catastrophes and suffering of our ancestors during these days throughout Jewish history. Their purpose is to recall the negative behavior that led to our destruction and exile, and to focus our attention on our own parallel behaviors that continue to drive our nation into similar negative situations. 

This outlook is based upon the prophecies which predicted the destruction and exile because of our actions. 

Furthermore, we consider the Talmudic statement that “any generation that did not have the Temple rebuilt in its days is tantamount to having destroyed it” (Jerusalem Talmud, 5a). This means that we must still be espousing those lifestyles that prophecy attributed to our distance from G-d and precipitated the destruction. Otherwise, He would have returned us to Israel, rebuilt the Temple and renewed the love relationship we once had.

The fast — abstention from food and other pleasures — is not an end in itself, rather a means to an end. That goal is one of self-introspection — assessment of one’s own love relationship with the Creator. It’s focusing on the love our Father in Heaven has for us and all the kindnesses He showers upon us constantly, and pondering on whether we are reciprocating. 

By abstaining from our physical pursuits, one is free to focus on what may be spiritually lacking. In addition, the ensuing hunger serves as a stark reminder that something is out of kilter and that the spiritual hunger to return to our lofty connection with G-d is gnawing at us from within. This recognition can truly bring us to a new and heightened connection with the Al-mighty.

Our prayers reflect our hopes that this will be our final period of mourning. May the next Tisha B’Av be a day of rejoicing — next year may we be in Jerusalem with peace for Jews throughout the world.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

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