Fasting Has a Way of Humbling the Self
In my faith of Judaism, we are commanded to fast specifically on Yom Hakippurim, which is coming this year on Sunday evening, the first of October. And we are directed in the Torah to fast from sundown of the ninth day of the seventh month until sundown of the tenth day of that same month.
The fasting, for me, on a very personal level, has always been a way for me to open myself up to see things clearer, to be drawn closer in my relationship to the God of Israel. Fasting has a way of humbling the self. We are told in the Book of Isaiah that when we fast, we should be fasting to make our voices heard on high.
So fasting helps to elevate the prayers that we offer to God. And it has always been a retreat for me. When I need to rejuvenate myself spiritually, I will fast for a 24-hour period, and as much as a 72-hour period. Whenever you’re fasting, you always will be tempted. All foods begin to smell better. You can smell a cookie from a mile away.
So what one has to do, I believe, is to meditate in conjunction to fasting. So you can’t put yourself in a position where, for instance, if you’re fasting and watching television and you see commercials. So when I fast, the television is off, the radio is off, and I’m in solitude in thought and meditation. And this then keeps all of these other things from entering into the mind and pulling my strength down.
I think that for black Americans and for all people, all people are the same once we get past pigmentation. And I believe sincerely that fasting is a way for any soul, any person, to be drawn closer to whatever their faith communities belief is… the God of their faith. I believe that fasting is given to mankind to help us to reflect on what we have, and to realize that the strength and the vigor of our bodies is just not something that is automatic. That it does come from a source that is higher than we are.
And that source is, in the Jewish tradition, Hashem, the God of Israel. But ultimately, the fast of any faith community is to draw the soul of the faster closer to that entity that we define as God.
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Rabbi Capers Funnye is spiritual leader of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, Chicago and Senior Research Associate of Institute for Jewish & Community Research.