How does fasting help us to do Teshuva?
- Discomfort – When we fast, we’re uncomfortable. This discomfort can serve as an impetus for teshuva. Your lack of food creates an unwholeness, a lack of Shalame-ness, much like your averas create an unwholeness, a lack of Shalame-ness. By feeling this unwholeness in your life through the discomforts of hunger, you better appreciate food and water, you crave wholeness, to be Shalame. And by craving to be Shalame physically, we firm up our resolve to be Shalame spiritually, to live a different kind of life due to the discomfort of your averas.
- Focus – During a fast, in theory, we are no longer preoccupied with food and other physical matters and therefore one’s mind is free to be given over to contemplation and introspection.
- Discipline – Your discomfort and focus (above) are irrelevant if you are not fasting properly. Fasting, like Shabbas, is something that you get good at. For many Jews, Shabbas is a Saturday, little different than what goyim experience during a weekend family get-together. For other Jews, Shabbas is a deep, spiritual experience. For example, Shabbas is beyond time, 25 hours that are truly separate from the rest of the week, 25 hours where you live in the present with possibly thoughts about the past and the future but your mind and self are wholly in the present. The beyond-time aspect of Shabbas is just one example of the depth and breadth of the spirituality of Shabbas. And experiencing the depth and breadth of the spirituality of Shabbas only occurs after years of practice. Fasting is very similar. Fasting is a discipline. When you fast, you take away something that your body physically needs. As a consequence, if your fast is a physical experience, it will be very different than if you experience a spiritual fast. The goal of a fast is to do teshuva, to change how you currently live. But to change your way of living is not easy. Your body, mind, and spirit, to differing levels, will rebel against your intentions when you try to make even the subtlest of changes. But, by learning to take away something so basic to your body’s health and not having your body, mind, and spirit rebel, you are training your self, yourself at the deepest spiritual level, to change. In order to make real changes, to do real teshuva, you need to have a spiritual fast, a fast where your mind and spirit have sovereignty over your body and the physical.