There are two major fast days on the Jewish calendar, that is, they are observed for a full twenty four hour period: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.
Yom Kippur is an “easier” fast-usually the weather is cool; the day is saturated with spirituality- synagogue, prayer, community and repentance. Tisha B’Av, by contrast, occurs during the summer months, the weather usually sweltering, the time of our annual vacations when our inclination is to indulge our bodies with food and drink, not deprive them.
Philosophically, the contrast of these two fast days has been insightfully defined by a Hassidic rabbi as follows: “On Yom Kippur-“ver darf essen,” who needs to eat; on Tisha B’Av, “ver ken essen,” who can eat!”
On the Day of Atonement food is unnecessary; we unfold as angelic, spiritual beings for whom the body is no longer in the center of our consciousness. On Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning commemorating Jerusalem’s destruction, how can a Jew enjoy food in the knowledge of such suffering!
To be frank, I have trouble fasting on Tisha B’Av. Aside from the inopportune time of the year, the emotional rationale seems to be drifting away-we live in a free and prosperous country, we have been blessed with renewed Jewish independence on our ancestral home of Israel, the idea of fasting seems more and more alien to many.
Nevertheless,it is, correctly, I believe, pointed out that we are faced with the moral need to remind ourselves of the wide disparity between our dreams for a better world and the reality of a world in disrepair; fasting serves that reminder. How better to personally experience the struggles not only of the Jewish people but of all people, especially the millions of children, who go to bed each night on empty bellies and with aching hearts.
Thus I am grateful for the gift of fasting, a way to help sensitize our souls to the needs of others, to bring to light our often times submerged sense of compassion, to point us in the direction of self-empowerment and away from viewing ourselves as passive and helpless victims. When we fast we become more in touch with our human gift of choice and self-determination. Fasting fosters choice, kindness and our gift of being human.
For all this we are grateful.