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Tzava'at Harivash 43

Tzava'at Harivash 43


When fasting, 1 have in mind the following: 2

“Woe to me! I have angered the Supreme King on account of my desires and my putrid pride.. That is why I wish to afflict myself to subdue my desires and pride. Thus I will effect Above that “the slave be subservient to his Master and the maid-servant to her Mistress,” 3 and fulfill the precept of teshuvah. 4 I wish to afflict myself so that I may serve God truthfully and whole-heartedly, with love and fear, in order that I effect His unity, 5 and also to offer myself as an offering before Him.

“Woe to me! What am I and what is my life? I wish to offer my fat and blood, my body and fire, my spirit, soul, strength, heart and will before Him. 6 [I want to offer these] to the Creator of all worlds, by whose word all worlds came into being and before whom everything is as nothing-all the more so I, mere dust, a maggot and worm. I cannot but appeal to His great mercies to augment my strength to offer many sacrifices before Him.

“I ought to rejoice so much that I merited to bring [Him] some gratification with my body, spirit and soul. Moreover, I ought to rejoice that He gave us the means to subdue the yetzer hara that is upon us.

“I wish to afflict myself because I caused sorrow to the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shechinah, 7 and also to ease that sorrow. Woe to me! Of what significance is my affliction compared to that sorrow which I caused for so many years! I can but appeal to His great mercies to observe my self-affliction to ease the sorrow of His Shechinah, and that He remove from us the kelipot (‘husks;’ evil forces) because of my affliction. May I effect Above that all the kelipot be removed from the Shechinah so that She may be purified and unify with Her ‘Spouse,’ in absolute unity, 8 in a mode of kindness and compassion. My self-affliction will thus effect union from Above to below, from the mind to the heart and from the heart to the liver, and that He pour His effluence upon me as well. 9

“I trust in Him, for He created all worlds by His word to come into being from nothingness. 10 All is as naught before Him, yet His providence is upon them to endow them with [supernal] effluence and their vitality. Thus surely He can provide me with strength, and in His kindness set His providence upon myself as well, saving me from the yetzer hara so that it will not prevent me from my self-affliction by arguing that I am weak and that my mind is withering, and other such enticements. 11 Thus I appeal but to His great kindness, for He put it in my heart to afflict myself. In His kindness He has helped me many times, and this day, too, He will help me, and save me from anything that would prevent me [from my good intentions].

“Moreover, [the fast] is not even an affliction on my part, for everything emanates from Him, blessed be He. On my own I would be altogether unable to afflict myself. 12

“Thus I submit myself unto Him who created all worlds by means of His word, even to endure all mortifications and disgraces for the sake of His unity. I wish to fulfill ‘you shall be holy,’ (Leviticus 20:7), 13 and I trust in His kindness that He will augment my strength so that I may serve Him in truth, and that He will help me so that people will not know of my deeds.

“I am not afraid of any weakness on account of the fast, for many people become ill [without fasting]. Moreover, ‘the Shechinah sustains the sick, as it is said, ‘God supports him upon the bed of illness’ (Psalms 41:4).’ (Shabbat 12b) Thus, in His kindness, He will surely sustain me.

“Furthermore, ‘I am going the way of all the earth’ and I will not deviate. Our sages said, ‘The greater the person, the greater is his yetzer hara’ (Sukah 52a). But as I do not deviate, I can trust in [God]: ‘Trust in God and do good’ (Psalms 37:3), i.e., one is allowed to trust [in God for the ability] to do Mitzvot, 14 and ‘They that hope in God shall renew strength.’ (Isaiah 40:31) Indeed, it is a good omen for one to die while engaged with teshuvah. 15 Without [this teshuvah] I may possibly have to be reincarnated because of sin and for having failed to worship properly with love and fear. Also, [it is said] ‘Do not worry about the troubles of tomorrow’ (Yevamot 63b).”

* * *

The essence of teshuvah is to turn back from one’s evil ways. 16

Do not feel proud, for he who takes pride in his fasting “will be delivered to dogs.” (Tikunei Zohar 18: 33b) 17

Even “if but a single individual repents, the whole world is forgiven.” (Yoma 86b) Thus rejoice in the pain of the fast for offering up yourself [to sanctify God’s Name], for surely you effected something very great.

[In the days of fasting follow this procedure:]

At the outset sleep in the first three nights-though not too much-in order to strengthen your mental faculties.

Change your place every so often, walk around a bit and then lie down briefly, in order to ease your pain.

Study Torah in your mind, without actual speech, to ease your pain.

Sometimes the mouth feels dry and has a bitter taste, and the yetzer [hara] makes it seem to you that your head aches and that it is unbearable for you; but if you trust in the Creator’s kindness your vigor will be strengthened, and there is no pain at all. 18

Have in mind that your fast is to bring gratification unto the Creator, blessed is He, and that you accept the pain upon yourself in order to ease the pain of the Shechinah. Worship with joy, and have in mind that the Shechinah sustains you even as She sustains others that are ill, and then God will help you.

In line with normative Halachah (Maimonides, Hilchot Deot 3:1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, sect. 571), Chassidism is opposed to self-mortifications such as fasting and other forms of self-affliction. It emphasizes that man concentrate on positive forms of self-improvement: “It is preferable to serve God in joy without self-mortifications, because the latter cause feelings of depression” (below, sect. 56). Note also Likkutim Yekarim, sect. 178: “The Baal Shem Tov merited all his illuminations and levels by virtue of his constant immersions. Frequent [immersions in a] mikveh (ritual pool) is superior to fasting, for fasting weakens the body from the service of God. It is much better to use the energy one would expend on fasting for the study of Torah and prayer, to pray with all one’s strength and concentration which leads one to spiritual ascent.” (Cited in Keter Shem Tov, sect. 219; and see there also sect. 249, 302, and Addenda: sect. 16.)
Nonetheless, fasting is not rejected outright: at times it may be needed for spiritual correction in the context of teshuvah. See below, sect. 56; and cf. also sect. 76-79.
The proper fast is not simply a passive state of “not eating and drinking.” It needs be a conscious act with a profound sense of overcoming physical needs and desires in the service of, and submission to, God (see below, notes 4 and 16). This section thus offers the appropriate meditations when fasting.
I.e., the subservience of man’s natural inclinations to God. Cf. Tikunei Zohar 2a.
Fasting is not itself teshuvah (repentance; return to God), but facilitates the frame of mind required for teshuvah (see below, note 16).
I.e., the pervasive presence of God as the sole true reality, as opposed to the dualism of the erroneous assumption of a dichotomy between the spiritual and the material.
Fasting diminishes the blood and fat of the body. Thus it is regarded like offering these as a sacrifice on the Divine altar of atonement (Berachot 17a). Moreover, fasting involves overcoming the natural desires for food and drink. Thus it implies a sacrifice of not only the physical blood and fat, but more so of soul, strength and will (see Zohar Chadash, Ruth:80a).
To sin is to cause sorrow to God, on both the level of the Divine Immanence and Presence (Shechinah) and the level of the Divine Transcendence (“The Holy One, blessed is He”).
Sin defiles not only the sinner’s body and soul but also, as it were, “covers” the Shechinah with the crude husk of evil. The Shechinah is thus “exiled” in evil, preventing the manifestation of the Divine Presence. In the metaphorical terminology of the Kabbalah this is regarded as a separation between the Shechinah (Divine Immanence) and Her “spouse”, the Holy One, blessed is He (Divine Transcendence). Acts of virtue (Torah and mitzvot), and specifically the correction of sin (teshuvah), “frees” the Shechinah from that exile and reunites Her with Her “spouse.”
Zohar III:153a notes that the Holy One, blessed is He, manifests Himself and His effluence by way of three principal channels which are metaphorically analogous to man’s vital organs of the brain, heart and liver. In the human, the liver is the first to absorb nourishment, and it transfers it to the heart which then transfers it to the brain. The order of Divine effluence, however, is in reverse: the aspect of “brain” (the Sefirah of Chochmah) transfers to the aspect of “heart” (the Sefirot of Zeeir Anpin, i.e., Chessed to Yessod), and the “heart” to the “liver” (the Sefirah of Malchut) from which it is diffused to the lower levels. When man fasts, he offers “nourishment”-the blood and fat that are diminished in him, and his will-to the supernal “liver,” whence it ascends to the supernal “heart” and then to the supernal “brain.” The “arousal from below” by man thus initiates a reciprocal “arousal from Above” in the normative order of Divine emanation and effluence.
Everything came into being, and continues existing, by means of the ten utterances of the six days of creation (as recorded in Genesis, ch. 1).
See below, sect. 78-79.
Even the strength and energy needed for the fast, man has but by Divine grace. See below, sect. 138, note 1.
To be holy means not only to separate from all that is forbidden, but more so to “sanctify yourself by that which is permitted to you,” self-restraint in permissible things (see Nachmanides on Leviticus 19:2).
This interpretation of Psalms 37:3 (to rely on God to help you fulfill the mitzvot) is identical to that of Nachmanides (Haemunah Vehabitachon, ch. 1) and R. Bachaya (Kad Hakemach, s.v. Bitachon).
Cf. Avot deR. Nathan 25:2: “It is a good omen for one to die whilst engaged with a mitzvah.”
Cf. Taanit 16a: “Neither sackcloth nor fastings are effective, but only teshuvah and good deeds, as we find that it is not said of the people of Ninveh that God saw their sackcloth and fasting, but, ‘God saw their deeds, that they turned from their evil way’ (Jonah 3:10).” Fasts serve the purpose to stir the heart to teshuvah, the essence of which is to turn from one’s evil ways and return to God (see Maimonides, Hilchot Taanit 5:1).
Cf. below, sect. 77.
See below, sect. 78-79.
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