Why Fast on Tisha be’Av?

This coming Wednesday night we will be commemorating Tisha be’Av, the only 25-hour fast day of the Jewish spiritual calendar, in addition to Yom Kippur.

Why do we still fast on Tisha be’Av even though we already regained sovereignty in Israel 72 years ago?

We fast on Tisha be’Av in solidarity with those amongst us who were expelled from their homes, or dispossessed.

We fast in remembrance of those who were baselessly imprisoned, or mock-executed, or executed in actuality.

We fast because we dare not forget those darkest of hours and days, in which we knew not, whether we will actually make it out of the old country alive and in one piece, and whether we will actually get to see our most beloved of relatives ever again.

We fast in order to feel but a millionth of the immeasurable pain and anguish which our brothers and sisters in Europe felt when they were dehumanized beyond description, and starved and tortured and beaten to death, or buried alive, or gassed to death.

We fast in undying solidarity, across time and space, with all the countless martyrs of our people.

And we also fast as an exercise in cosmic humility. Modern man at times errs by feeling invincible. We know not hunger. And with the new technologies, the world, and all its know-how, is literally at our finger tips. But as the great Rabbi Soloveitchik brilliantly observed: “Man is finite, and so is his victory.”

We fast, in the words of the Mishnah, in order to remind ourselves, that with all our fancy and silly airs of pretentiousness and pathetic self-importance, our humble physiological origin is simply “from a drop of seed”, and that in the end, when all is said and done, the final physical destination which awaits us all is, in the succinct words of our sages, “a place of dust, where worms consume the flesh.”

We fast in order to behold upon our very flesh the fragile and precarious nature of human existence, and that our brief sojourn as living beings on this earth, is akin, in the immortal words of the psalmist, to a “fleeting shadow” on the face of eternity.

We fast in sacred protestation of the awesome and deadening gap between the superficiality of the image-based existence which we lead, and the life which G-d expects us to lead.

We fast as a reality check, as a rebellious and holy gesture, which sensitizes us to the relative futility and marginality of all our human and worldly endeavors, of the totality of our careers and personal drives and ambitions and silly vanities and professional and material goals, and just how minute and marginal and meaningless they all are, once truly contemplated and pondered upon from a divine perspective, from the standpoint of the infinite expanses of Eternity.

We fast because of the glaring and excruciating dissonance between the inaptness of our external deeds, and the sacred murmur of our untarnished inner core.

We fast because our soul is in exile, in metaphysical captivity, banished from its pristine origin in G-d Almighty.

We fast in an effort to achieve an internal shift from the shackles of worldliness and egoism, into the promised lands of soulfulness and altruism.

May all our internal homes be speedily rebuilt, and may our portion always be with those who are truly attached to Hashem’s eternal Torah, and who serve not the false idols of our time, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sessler

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