It seems simple enough, the concept of fasting. Whether it is a religious, or a healthcare, reason to forgo water, food or any kind of bodily sustenance for a period of time it basically comes down to the same thing. You are not taking in that which is necessary for humans to survive. The question is why do we humans do that? No other animal on Earth willingly denies themselves necessities. So why do we?
Now fasting for a healthcare reason could mean anything from allergies, prep for surgery, or some mistaken first world notion of a special diet so as to look good for that up coming high school or college reunion. That is not to say that doing without the fats, sugar, or the myriad of chemicals with which we laden our food is a bad thing. But it is without a doubt not something you hear about in the Sudan, Somalia, in drought ridden parts of the globe, or among the poor in the USA. Going on a “healthcare” (and yes I put that word in quotes) fast is a privilege of the well-off and well-to-do. Being self-righteous about it, is also the purview of the egotistical and shallow minded bon vivant.
The multitude of celebrities touting one diet or the other, is a product of our commercialized society, where it is essential to the right minded to be part of any particular trend. Whether it is following the inanities in the Goop empire (and no I am not picking on Gwyneth Paltrow. I would have like to have had the foresight to have created a lifestyle empire myself. It’s just that so much of her “insights” are out of sync with the average person, and real life) or trying to figure out the benefits of the latest diet fad, we in our first world struggle of deprived survival challenges need to find a raison d’etre, a question, a purpose for existing in our own little materialistic world. We need to find something to make ourselves fell better when it comes to what we have and why we don’t share as much as we should. So we fast to punish ourselves for our own good fortune and superficiality.
But fasting, as we tend to think of it, in religious terms is what most of us think of when talking about deprivation. And fasting takes on different attributes depending on the religion. In Catholicism, fasting is to forgo one special item during the period of Lent, or no meat on Fridays. For Moslems, it is to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual congress from sun up to sunset during the month long period of Ramadan. For Jews an equivalent fast lasts for 25 hours straight. There are actually 6 fast days for Jews throughout the year, not simply the well known Yom Kippur. In fact, we are entering one of those fast periods tonight, Tisha B’Av.
Tisha B’Av, or the Ninth of the month of Av, is the commemoration of the destruction of the two Holy Temples, in Jerusalem, Israel. Included over time on the holiday of remembrance is the expulsions from Spain, England and remembrance of pogroms throughout our 2,000 year old diaspora. Oddly, there are many more infamous historical events that befell the Jewish people on this date. We have no idea why the cosmos has decided to imbue this date with horror, but our duty is to remember, acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of the past. We are taught that fasting presents to God our true face, our true wishes to repent for sins, or to bring ourselves to understand the traumas that have befallen the Jewish people.
Fasting is a way for humanity to look inwards, to understand the meaning of the holiday, to right our wrongs, to look to the future, to forswear to be a better person tomorrow. The religious tell us that only through fasting, depriving yourself of life giving sustenance and joy, will God know that you truly wish to become a better person.
I don’t buy it….
We are taught that the reasons the Temples were destroyed was because of “sinat chinam,” or baseless hatred. That the infighting and quarreling among the Jewish people destroyed our nation. That only with cohesion can we go farther in to the future and only with cohesion can we assure our children a righteous existence. But the problem here isn’t that there is disgruntled persons, or unhappy persons, or infighting among ourselves. The issue is who is to decide the right path?
Oh there are any number of religious, and irreligious, folk that will tell you only their way is the right way. They will site Torah, or history, Mishnah, and science, and then decide who is entitled to be right, and who is absolutely wrong. They will then denounce and persecute, in any myriad of ways, those that disagree with their world view. Simply because you call yourself religious does not make you righteous, and simply because your forswear religion doesn’t make you a humanitarian.
Truth is, that people in general, are a quarrelsome lot. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Democracy thrives on the ability to argue, and speak your mind. Ideas, thoughts, opinions are what make the world an interesting place. History shows us that it is the challenge to authority, to totalitarian ideology, and the promotion of the concept of human rights that have propelled society from one age to the next. Justice, Justice, shall thou pursue….
Society grows through experimentation and individuality. It is through this enlightenment that humanity is able to understand that blessings are for everyone and not for a select few. While we look towards ancient peoples for today’s lessons, and understand that much of what we are today would not be without the trials and tribulations of the past, it doesn’t mean that we have stopped growing, developing and maturing in our thoughts, our perspectives, or our plans for the future.
Ancient ways are interesting, but they are not the epitome of what it means to repent, understand, nor reach for a future. Fasting, while for some is a good place to start, for others it is the meaning, and the need to understand, what lies hidden in the human soul that is at issue. Yet no amount of fasting is going to repair a broken world. It is only human understanding, friendship, and cooperation that will lead to a better future.
So perhaps that is what the sages mean by “sinat chinam.” That it is the baseless hatred that destroyed the Jewish people, not because they hated one another or disagreed with outlooks and religious perspectives. But because this punditry, this pluralism, this refusing to talk to each other, and talking past each other, is what led to the destruction of the Temples, our enslavements, and diaspora for over 2000 years. It is the disrespect you show for another’s point of view, and the abject refusal to entertain that perhaps, just perhaps, your opponent may actually have something worthwhile to say.
This modern day “sinat chinam” can be seen in the arguments surrounding the egalitarian prayer area of the Kotel and is emblematic of a deeper rift among the Jewish people. How it will end will not depend upon fasting, but upon facing the demon of hatred, religious supremacy, and abject disrespect shown for another’s opinion. For we are not talking about deciding between human sacrifice or respect for life, but to acknowledge that not every Jew agrees with how Judaism should be lived on a daily basis. What was before is not always right, and humanity changes, grows, and sees things in new lights with new eyes as we mature as a people.
Also we can see this baseless hatred in the USA. We talk about the polarization of politics. We talk about the abject disregard one ideologue has for another. Pundits make themselves out to be the arbiter of what is righteous, and only if you follow their worldview are you deemed worthy of respect, a livelihood, and a future. They demonize those whose views diverge, and who question the veracity of their views. People are assaulted, shut down, and refused a voice simply because they challenge the prevailing view of political correctness, altLeft fanaticism, and intersectionality. People are deplatformed simply because of the words they utter.
But words are NOT violence. Words are simply tools that can be used to either instigate violence, or instigate peace. It is our choice how we proceed. It is our choice how we use language, to either help, or to harm.
Sartre said, “We are our choices.” This is no better epitomized than in the political discourse of our time. Choosing how you view the world, and how you approach those withwhom you disagree says more about what kind of future you wish upon our children, then any amount of fasting ever could. In fact just leaving it all up to an omnipotent being, who is supposed to solve your problems because you fast, is simply the cowards way out of our conundrum.
Abraham Lincoln said of the enmity surrounding the Civil War, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It is a lesson we need to learn today. Baseless hatred has come to fruition in the US. If we do not stand and be accountable for the accusations and harmful rhetoric that is part and parcel of our lives, then no amount of fasting will save this great nation. We too will disappear into the recesses of history at a time when demagogues, tyrants, and theocratic militants threaten to take over the global stage and chart a despotic new course in human history.
And for putting our petty quarrels before working for a peaceful decent future for our posterity, for allowing evil to flourish, while we measure our dicks to see who can argue the most and who has the most financial or political capital, our children will never, and should never, forgive us.