Parshas Vayigash.


The laws of repentance and fasts.


1. The laws, the Creator gave us in his Torah are given for our own benefit. Whoever does not keep the commandments is damaging his own soul and all the spiritual elements that are related to it. Even when a person sins, the Creator does not want to punish him. The punishments of the Torah are actually painful operations of the Great Doctor Who wants only to help the patient. For this reason, the Creator prepared the best remedy – Teshuvah – the repentance or literally – coming back to one’s spiritual root. The gates of repentance are always open. The Creator tells us: “My children, open your hearts just a little and I will open the gigantic gates of Heaven for you”. Until the day of one’s death, the Creator waits for his repentance. Even the most sinful individual can rectify a lot, if he repents while he is still alive.


2. The main elements of Teshuvah are the decision not to repeat the sin and Viduy – a sincere confession before the Creator. Often a person who got accustomed to certain “forbidden pleasures” finds it quite difficult to change himself. In such cases he would need to make additional fences to not find himself to close to breaking the prohibition, when the desire will be too great to withstand. Often the penitent accepts on himself voluntary suffering, for example fasting, or additional mitzvos, for example, giving more that usual to tzedoko, visiting the sick and bringing others to repentance, learning more Torah and supporting others who learn it, etc. Still one has to remember that tzedoko and fasting are only additional elements of repentance and work only when one decided firmly not to repeat the sin. The one who tries to rectify his sins by simply giving to charity and fasting, is far from the truth. Our sages compare him to the one immersing many times in the Mikvah while holding a dead reptile – he remains ritually unclean as before. Once he lets the animal go, even one immersion will purify him.


3. If one is at fault before others, his forgiveness is only achieved when they forgive him. Even when the monetary damage was compensated, there is still need for explicit forgiveness. On the other hand, they should not be vindictive: the Creator forgives those who easily forgive others. Sometimes it is inconvenient to ask forgiveness, one can be afraid that reminding what he did to his fellow will upset him even more. For example, if one who spoke badly about another and now repents, it is very difficult to correct his sin for he would have to tell the one he spoke about what was done. Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim writes that the sin of speaking badly of others is so great and it is difficult to do Teshuva. In such cases one should ask a Rabbi what to do. 


4. There are two types of fast days in Jewish law. Some fasts are for the whole 24 hours starting the previous evening. On these fasts not only eating and drinking but also washing, applying oils and creams, wearing leather shoes and having marital relations is forbidden. Other fasts are only for the day time, from daylight (72 minutes before sunrise) till nightfall when the stars come out. During these fasts only eating, drinking and washing the mouth is forbidden. Both types of fasts can be accepted voluntarily during the pervious day‘s Mincha prayer. Throughout the year we fast two obligatory long fasts and a few short ones. The two long fasts are on Yom Kippur and the Ninth of Av. We discuss them in Parshas Vayelech and Devarim. The short fasts include three fasts commemorating the destruction of our Temples, a fast before Purim, and the fast of firstborn before Passover. The most lenient fast is the fast of the firstborn, the prevailing custom is to make a Seudas Mitzvah – a festive meal where the firstborn participate and then they don’t have to fast. In most synagogues somebody finishes learning a tractate of the Talmud and makes a celebration. Regarding the fast before Purim, it is also more lenient than others – so a person who feels week should talk to a Rabbi.


5. The remaining three fasts are the fast of Gedaliya – the day after Rosh Hashanah when righteous Gedaliya was killed and remaining Jews ran away from the Holy Land which remained empty for 52 years. The fast on the Tenth of Teves, a week after Hanukkah – on this day the Babylonian armies surrounded Jerusalem. This became the beginning of a bloody war that ended with the destruction of the First Temple. The fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz – on this day many sad events happened to out people including the breaking of the First Tablets, and the breach of the Jerusalem wall by Roman armies.


6. All healthy Jews are obliged to fast on these three fast, but pregnant or feeding women and also very weak people should ask a Rabbi. Nevertheless, in many communities the women do not fast except on Yom Kippur and the Ninth of Av. In any case they should not eat for pleasure but only what is required for health. The most important is repentance during the fasts, as the Torah says regarding the city of Ninveh: “And God saw their repentance”, but it does not say, that the Creator looked at their fasting and sack cloth.


7. In the future, the Creator will make these fasts into holidays.