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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Is fasting spiritually healthy?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 17

The Chozeh of Lublin was a great Chasidic Rebbe in late eighteenth century Poland.  They once told him about a certain righteous man who would fast all week long and only eat on Shabbos.
“Rebbe, what do you think?  This fellow is like an angel who doesn’t need to eat! How incredibly spiritual!”

The Torah declares, “If a person swears by uttering with his lips to do bad or do good . . . he shall bring a sacrifice to G-d.”
Beraisa: One might think that if one made an oath to transgress a mitzvah and failed to do so that he is guilty of breaking his word and must bring a sacrifice.  Therefore the verse states, “to do bad or do good,” which implies that just like doing good refers to engaging in permissible activities, similarly doing bad refers not to transgressing, but to abstaining from permissible activities.   Thus, one who swears to transgress a mitzvah is excluded from this dictum, since mitzvos are obligatory, not permissible activities.
Rashi explains: An example of swearing to do good would be where one promised to eat something permissible; an example of swearing to do bad would be where one promised not to eat something permissible.  In each of these cases, if one were to break one’s promise, he would have to bring an atonement sacrifice to G-d.

The Chozeh of Lublin responded to his Chasidim: There are two ways to serve G-d, abstinence and consumption.   While one could certainly become more spiritual by fasting, one could become even more spiritual by eating and elevating the food.  That is what is meant when the Torah teaches that one may take an oath “to do bad or do good.”   You’re not transgressing any mitzvah by abstaining from the pleasures of this world, but it’s still considered bad. 

The Almighty created an incredible world and He wants you to enjoy it.  He wants you to elevate it, not escape it.  When you eat for the right reasons – in order to have the strength to serve Him – and make the right blessings before and after, you become a partner in creation.  G-d created an imperfect world with a view to having us join Him in perfecting it.  When you utilize the wonders of this world – the inanimate, vegetable, and animal kingdoms – for His service, you transform the physical into the spiritual!

The Almighty created an amazingly good world.  Don’t shy away from it; don’t take it for granted.  May you merit a life of elevation, transforming this physical world into a spiritual abode for G-d!