In the Jewish tradition we have an affinity for fasting. It seems that with all of the eating that we do as Jews, the ancient Talmudic sages felt that maybe we should balance that out. So, they instituted several fasts during the year. This year after dismissing many of my former laws and customs I wondered how I would approach the fast day known as Tisha b’ab which commemorates the destruction of the holy temple in ancient Jerusalem. I questioned whether I would be fasting this year or not. Why put myself through an experience that kept me from eating-one of my personal joys? Yet one of my wonderful friends said to me, “you’ll fast or you won’t. It doesn’t make a difference because in appreciating the moment you lose nothing in experiencing whatever is here.” That was so liberating. My opportunity, as always, was to meet the moment with love, whether eating or not. Well this was new for me. Now the rules were no longer ruling me and breaking them no longer held the same attraction. I was truly free to do what I would do. And so I didn’t eat until I did. In the process I had the most wonderful insight.
For a while I have been comparing Judaism to other religions. The first thing I noticed is that Judaism did not have guru. There’s no Buddha, no Jesus and no Mohammed. There is no human form for us to look up to. Yes we have Moses and Abraham but they just don’t sit in the same light as the others. After grappling with it for a while I came to the wonderful realization that maybe Jews don’t have a guru because the Old Testament knew that true knowledge can only come from ourselves. When we look to outside sources to fix us, to show us the path, we will be sorely disappointed and led the wrong way. As Jews, the Torah tells us that the only way we will get it, is by looking inside of ourselves. What better opportunity is there for self inquiry than a day that prohibits, eating, drinking, sex, bathing, swimming, shopping and even Bible study. The only thing that we have left to do is feel the moment.
You cant distract yourself with anything. The sages seemed to have known that being in the moment was so difficult for us that they forced us to remove all distractions. And so, I postulate, maybe this was their attempt at giving us an opportunity to truly experience for ourselves what it feels like to be present. In that experience we have the opportunity to get in touch with the feelings and beliefs that keep us stuck. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we truly feel. In my experience when I am not fully aware of my feelings, I unconsciously act unkindly to others, especially when I am dealing with fear. If I am afraid of being rejected, I will reject the person first so as not to be hurt.
When we are in the moment without any distractions we have nothing to divert us from the truth. All the feelings and emotions surface with nowhere to go other than to be brought into consciousness . It is in this moment of reflection that we can notice the discrepancy between our feelings and our actions and choose love rather than fear.
Rabbi Esther Azar