You Are What You Don't Eat

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Good for the Soul

Sixth, fasting is good for the soul. It is an aid for spiritual experiences. For most people, especially those who have not fasted regularly before, the hunger pains are a distraction.

The seventh outcome of fasting is the performance of a mitzvah. We do not do mitzvot in order to benefit ourselves. We do mitzvot because our duty as Jews requires that we do them.

Fasting is a very personal mitzvah. Its effects are primarily personal. Fasting on Yom Kippur is a personal offering to the God of Israel from each member of the family of Israel.

For more than 100 generations, Jews have fasted on Yom Kippur. Your personal act of fasting is part of the Jewish people's covenant with God. The only real reason to fast is to fulfill a mitzvah.

The outcome of your fast can be any of a half-dozen paths to self-fulfillment. Simply knowing that you have done one of your duties as an adult Jew is the most basic and primary outcome of all.

Finally, fasting should be combined with the study of Torah. Indeed, the more one studies, the less one has need of fasting. A medieval text states: "Better eat a little and study twice as much, for study of Torah is superior to fasting!"

Fasting is a very personal experiential offering. However, while study is also a personal experience, it takes place with a text and/or a teacher. The divine is more readily and truly experienced in dialogue with others than in meditation. Let your fasting be for you the beginning of the removal of the chains of oppression.

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Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Rabbi Allen S. Maller was the rabbi at Temple Akiba in Culver City, CA for 39 years before retiring in 2006. Rabbi Maller is a graduate of UCLA and the Hebrew Union College. He has taught at Gratz College in Philadelphia, the Hebrew Union College and the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and at the UCLA Extension.