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16 July 2014 @ 06:04 pm
Tzom Tammuz and Fasting  
Yesterday was Tzom Tammuz, the beginning of the Three Weeks that lead up to Tisha b'Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples (and if you believe all the stories, basically everything bad that ever happened to the Jewish people as a whole). Since it's a fast day, I woke up at 5 a.m. to eat before sunrise...and then I went to work, which was probably my first mistake. It's hard for a fast to serve the purpose of focusing the mind if I'm just doing what I do normally anyway and always distracting myself with doctors' names.

I don't usually find it that onerous, and on Ta'anit Esther I don't recall having any problems at all, but then again, sunrise and sunset were four hours closer then, so I woke up at the normal time and just ate dinner a little later. And on Yom Kippur I was fine, but I also spent almost that entire evening and day in services, which does a lot to focus the mind. On Tzom Tammuz, I came home and I was fine for a bit, but near the end I mostly lay on the floor for a bit and thought...which i guess counts as focusing my mind? If the goal of fasting is to clear the mind, well, it worked, but it didn't really allow for anything to come in to fill it. I stared into space for a bit, helped by softlykarou being at a conference in Washington D.C., then I was hit with roleplaying inspiration, got up and wrote for a bit, and then I realized it was after sunset and went off and ate dinner.

One thing I have noticed as I’ve gotten older is that I no longer dismiss tradition out of hand nor think that all ritual is ludicrous. There are plenty of traditions that are awful and I’m sure I don’t need to illuminate them here, but I don’t really think that the modern nihilism that throws out everything from the past is actually a superior approach. You could ask me what a good approach for determining what tradition is valuable and what isn’t is, and I’d probably say “I have no idea,” but maybe if we took the age of a custom into account as merely one of a number of factors, instead of just jumping to a binary “Older is better”/“Long practice is meaningless” approach, it would be better? This isn’t something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, admittedly, but it is part of the reason I do a lot of stuff that people at our synagogue might not even consider.

But I remain with the question of why I did it. I mean, I could say that it's obligated, but so is keeping kosher and I don't do that (other than free range, sustainably grown, organic, blah blah food--what I've seen some people call "hippie kosher"). I could come at it from a rationalist explanation that willpower needs to be exercised in order to maintain its strength, and I did set out some wine and bread and a glass of water on the table as soon as I got home even though I didn't eat or drink for a few hours after until sunset. But that wasn't the reason I set out with when I decided to wake up at 5 a.m. so I could eat before sunrise. I'm not sure I had a reason I could communicate with others.

Do I need one? One of the great quotes from the Torah, at least in my opinion, is נעשה ונשמע (na'aseh v'nishma, "We will do and we will hear") from Exodus 24:7, which is usually interpreted to mean that understanding comes from action. There's also usually a hierarchy, where doing without understanding is placed on a higher level than understanding without doing. I'm not usually much of one for gnostic understanding, but I can see how observing the fasts is part of a process, and "why did I do it?" isn't as important as waiting and developing an answer for "why do I do it?"

Life is a process, after all, and the search for enlightenment is valuable even if enlightenment is never attained.
 
 
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