On Not Fasting

Today is the 17th of Tammuz, and I feel guilty for not being able to fast.

Most days we, as Jews, are asked to serve Hashem with Simcha (happiness), to utilize the tremendous bounty around us to enhance our lives. In some ways, this can be more challenging, living in the physical world and enjoying it while still fusing it with the spiritual, rather than simply abstaining from it all. This is kind of part of what got my mental health to the state where I am having difficulty desiring to eat. I hated being in a body that confines me, that has needs that I have to tend to, that has wants. It just seemed to make me less spiritually oriented and made me feel guilty for enjoying earthly pleasure, for liking them, for wanting them.

The Importance of Today

Today we fast to commemorate five tragedies, as well as begin the three week mourning period that culminates with the 9th of Av – which is the day we fast to mourn the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash (holy temple) and all of the tragedies that have happened to the Jewish people since. The five tragedies specific to this day include: 1) Moshe breaking the luchos (the tablet engraved with the Ten Commandments), 2) the kohanim (priests) no longer being able to bring a Korban Tamid (daily sacrificial offerings) due to the siege, 3) the Romans breaching the walls of Yerushalayim, 4) a Torah was burned, and 5) an idol was erected in the Bais HaMikdash.

My Guilt

The importance of this day makes me feel guilty for not fasting. Guilty and just plain wrong. I’ve been told by my PHP (partial hospitalization program) team that if I fast, I’ll be putting myself in a bad place, that it would be likely to cause relapse with my eating disorder, and that it’s not like I’m in the best of positions going into it. I hear all that, and yet… this is the first time since I turned bas mitzvah, 15 years ago, that I am not fasting. It feels wrong because of all the times that I have fasted in the past, because I know that I am more than capable of fasting. It feels wrong because I don’t think that fasting would, in fact, put me in a bad place. I recently spent eight weeks in a residential treatment faciliy and am in a much better place than I have been in years and was thus shocked when my PHP team told me that I am still too much in a veurnelable place in my recovery to fast. In fact, eating today is more likely to make me feel worse about eating tomorrow than fasting would’ve.

This all raises the question of what’s the point of fasting? Why do I feel the need to fast so much that not fasting makes me think I’ll need to restrict myself from eating tomorrow? Does it make me a bad Jew for indulging on this day? Am I indulging? I specifically chose things that are harder for me to eat. I’m not having coffee because that’s not necessary, and just because I’m not fasting doesn’t give me an excuse to indulge.

My PHP team challenged me to think about whether I wanted to fast for spiritual reasons, or in order to restrict, and to truly explore what fasting would mean for me. If I were not to eat, would I be truly fulfilling the purpose of fasting? How many times have I come into a fast day happy that I don’t have to think about food and ways of explaining why I’m not eating, relieved that for one day I don’t have to lie? Is THAT what the days are about? Restricting for the sake of it? No…

Why I’m Eating

I am eating because even though I’m not sure I believe it fully, my mind isn’t completely healthy. G-d wants us to take care of our bodies and our minds. Granted, I don’t think I’m sick enough to fall into this category of needing to eat. But, they tell me that I am, and maybe I’m not the best judge of this.

Eating right now is what I need to be doing in order to focus on what’s important to me. In order to get back to living congruently with my values. In order to strengthen my ability to connect with others. Baseless hatred towards others… I don’t really struggle with that. How about starting with baseless hatred towards myself? I am using the food that I eat today to fuel my body to connect with Hashem, to do His will.

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1 Comment on “On Not Fasting

  1. Thank you Esther.
    Your piece is so well written, and gives me a glimpse of your life, and your challenge. I hope someday you will be able to fast. I hope someday you will have healed enough to be able to fast for the purpose of the day, without getting stuck in the quicksand of your mental health issues.
    I too may not fast this year.
    And I wonder if I’m so sick, mentally, that I can’t fast. I hate fasting. I hate fast days. I don’t love eating, but I get headaches and edgy from skipping meals. I suffer from Bipolar 2. Even writing that feels queer. I don’t want to agree that I have a mental illness. Fasting will definitely exacerbate my symptoms, which may lead to self-harm or suicidal ideation. So am I too sick to fast?
    Wishing you all the best,

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