aish.com > Holidays > Tisha BAv > Overview & Laws

The Radical Act of Fasting

July 12, 2022 | by Elias Neibart

In a world filled with immediacy and indulgence, the countercultural act of fasting teaches us how to temper our most immediate urges.

Modern life is one of immediacy and indulgence. With the swipe of a finger, any piece of information is just seconds away. Hungry? Tap a button and food will show up at your door. Thirsty? Preorder your coffee and we’ll have it waiting when you get here. Need a date for tonight? One swipe right and you might be in luck.

Patience is no longer a virtue, it’s an impediment. When we don’t get all that we want at the very moment we want it, we feel cheated and frustrated. Restraint is no longer celebrated, it’s decried. In modern life, delayed gratification is archaic. The spirit of our age is one of unfettered and rapid consumption.

In such a cultural moment, Judaism offers us a radical response. This revolutionary act, however, is not one of action but of inaction. It requires of us to refrain, not to do. It asks us to take a moment to stop in an age where we are so hastily moving forward. It is the act of fasting – something we’re accustomed to do on the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av — two fast days where Jews remember several calamites of our past, including the destruction of both the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Fasting is countercultural. We learn to temper our most immediate urges. And as we practice restraint, we learn that life’s most transcendental moments come during introspection, not indulgence. As we cultivate that out-of-fashion virtue of patience, we soon realize that the world’s most meaningful gifts come to those who wait.

In this way, when we fast, we inch closer to the Divine. We reject our most primal proclivities and learn to moderate and restrain our earthly inclinations.

In fact, our desire for immediacy and our penchant for indulgence rests at the heart of Judaism’s summer fast days. On the 17th of Tammuz, we remember Moses’ shattering of the tablets at Sinai. After weeks on top of the mountain, Moses descended with what would have been mankind’s most precious gift. Yet, in his extended absence, the Israelites became impatient. Rather than waiting for Moses to reappear with the Torah, they constructed something in its stead—a golden calf. They wanted what they were promised, and they wanted it now.

When they didn’t get it, they filled their spiritual void with the glitzy and the glittering—not with what was most gratifying.

In fact, the Book of Lamentations, which we read on Tisha B’Av, and the Talmud suggest Jerusalem was destroyed for similar reasons. The Jewish people were hamstrung and debased by their penchant for indulgence. Unbridled idol worship, uninhibited adultery, and unadulterated avarice redounded to the detriment of the Jewish people.

Real meaning requires persistence and patience. Instantaneous indulgence will not suffice.

And as tragedy befell our people, how did they respond? They stressed the importance of patience. We are told, time and time again, in the Book of Lamentations, the “the Lord is good to those who wait for Him” and that we should “wait quietly for…salvation.”

Real meaning requires persistence and patience. Instantaneous indulgence will not suffice.

Over these next few weeks, as you fast, first remember all the trials peppered throughout our people’s troubled history. And as you refrain from food and drink, appreciate the radicalness of your act.

Submerged in a society that promotes immediate gratification and endless consumption, fasting teaches us the benefits of self-control and the virtue of patience and perseverance. True fulfillment and satisfaction won’t come to those who indulge as quickly as possible, but rather to those who calmly and patiently pursue—not the most goods—but the world’s most sacred goods.




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