There is another aspect to the customs of the Yartzeit. There is a practice to fast on a Yartzeit and especially on the Yartzeit of a Tzaddik. However, we do not find such a practice recorded in the customs of Chabad nor in Chabad books.1

In truth this follows the philosophy of general Chassidus and especially Chabad that in the later generations we should minimize fasts and self-punishment.

The Baal Shem Tov propounded this philosophy by explaining the verse:

When you see a donkey...lying under its burden... it may occur to you to follow the path of mortification of the flesh...not in this must aid it...purify the body, refine it, but do not break it by mortification2.

The Mezritcher Maggid similarly said, “A small puncture of the body makes a big hole in the soul.” And the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that in modern times we should not undertake fasts even for the sake of repentance, rather we should increase our tzedakah.

This prevalent weakness of the physical nature of the generation is not something we chose, rather it is caused by Divine Providence. G‑d made these generations more frail, why? this shows us that the refinements of the world that had to be accomplished through mortification were accomplished in the previous generations; it is no longer necessary now.

And even in those matters which remain to be refined nothing will be lacking if one follows the advice of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe.

In these generations we can accomplish the same without pain and with joy and good health.

Chabad specifically teaches that our Divine service must penetrate the human being (not break it) — start with the intellect and then permeate the entire being.

Carrying this point further we must nowadays refrain even from those fasts which the Alter Rebbe permitted in Iggeres HaTeshuvah, even those should be redeemed with tzedakah.

So, too, in the case of the Yartzeit of Tzaddikim, today we can receive the spiritual revelations tied to the day through Divine service related to the body without fasting. I do not challenge other groups or customs which sanction fasting “for each river flows in its own way” and everyone must follow and climb his own trail but this is the road of Chabad. This is especially so in light of the earlier explanation of the elevation of the soul attained on a Yartzeit as well as the elevation of those associated to the soul of the departed. In the life of the concerned individuals this will express itself in more Torah study, more charity and more mitzvos, etc.