The Heart of Fasting, Part 2

This is the second article in a two-part series. For the first installment, click here.

A promise remains for those in Israel who are privileged and heed God’s call to share what they have with those who are in great need. Isaiah 58:8-10 states,

8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up speedily;

your righteousness shall go before you;

the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

If you take away the yoke from your midst,

the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,

10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry

and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,

then shall your light rise in the darkness

and your gloom be as the noonday.

The phrase “pour yourself out” is a powerful expression of God’s heart for the poor: while it is good to give even a small amount, God wants his people to be devoted to helping those who are less privileged than they are. When they do this, God will hear their prayer and be present to them. Instead of darkness and gloom, they will experience the sunlight of God’s favor.

The Privileged and the Poor

Isaiah’s words are just as relevant to us now as they were to his contemporaries. We, like they, are called to share our food with those who are hungry, to bring the homeless poor into our house, and to clothe those who are poorly clothed (verse 7). This thought is rightfully expanded to include those who are oppressed and disenfranchised in any way.

We prefer not to think too much about men, women, and children who live in a regular state of hunger and homelessness. We may even think that they are not really oppressed since their poverty was probably their own fault! This thought offers us false comfort that we are doing the right thing when we do not help them out.

But God makes no distinction between the worthy poor and the unworthy poor: he calls them all “oppressed” (see verses 6 -7). He holds guilty those who “have” but do not help those who “do not have”. Likewise, the provisions of field-corner and gleaning for the poor, the widow, and the foreigner make no distinction between the worthy and the unworthy (Leviticus 19:9-10).

Yom Kippur is among the most difficult days of the year. On this day, we are confronted with the enormous harm that sin has done to our relationship with God and others. We have attempted to live a holy life, yet we have fallen short. On Yom Kippur, we discover that we must engage in the work of repentance far more deeply than we typically do.

At the same time, we struggle to keep the fast. The voices of hunger and thirst beckon us to eat or drink, even a little. However, instead of mentally battling these temptations, I suggest that God would have us to reflect on the lives of those who experience hunger every day and those who do not have a roof over the head. They cannot simply go to the fridge to grab a bite or lay down on a nice bed to take a nap. It is a day to reflect on the privileges we enjoy, and which we are right to enjoy. We should wallow in shame, but also think so as to act. As difficult as this is, counter-intuitively it may make the temptations easier to resist.

Bringing the homeless into one’s home is a special case. In the agrarian society of Isaiah’s day, the homeless were generally known individuals who were actually members of the community, albeit marginally. When Anna and I were young in the faith, we made the big mistake of attempting to do this on our own. We succeeded only in bring chaos into our home. Today, homelessness is more complex and intractable and must be addressed by the wider society. However, one can still donate their time and money to organizations who work to care for and help the homeless, and have compassion and prayer for those they pass on the street.

To face these issues squarely requires inner resolve, radical honesty with ourselves, and perseverance, as does the fight against all forms of oppression.

I suggest that all of these things are worthy to occupy our thoughts at various times when we fast, especially on Yom Kippur. The promises for those who engage in God’s chosen fast (and, I suggest, God’s chosen life) are extravagant, as Isaiah 58:11-12 beautifully explains:

11 And the Lord will guide you continually

and satisfy your desire in scorched places

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water,

whose waters do not fail.

12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

the restorer of streets to dwell in.

.G’mar chatimah tovah (may you be inscribed for a good year)!

This article was written by Rav Carl Kinbar.

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