Fasting in Judaism was not an ascetic matter. It was not meant to act as a control over the body as a value in itself.
The lack of food creates a vacuum in the body that yearns to be filled, and that symbolizes the hunger of another food, the presence of God which sin leads us away from sin.
This is the way that David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah, and experienced physical thirst, could exclaim: “God, you are my God, I seek you at dawn, my soul is thirsting of you “. (Ps 63.1-2)
Moreover, as it happened in the desert experience (Deuteronomy 8), hunger, thirst, felt dependence reminds us that ultimately we receive everything from God and must give him thanks;
In the biblical text that speaks of the feast of Kippur, marked by the fast, it does not say “you shall fast” but “you shall deny yourselves” – or “your persons”- (16,29,32 Leviticus: Leviticus 23, 27,29,32) and the Hebrew verb means “you will make yourselves poor, small, humble before God”
Fasting in Judaism is associated with prayer and almsgiving. During the holidays of Rosh Ha Shana and Yom Kippur, in the main prayer of these festivals, we find a passage, where it says “Fasting (TSOM), Voice (Qol), Money (Mammon) distract us from the divine decree “that is to say: incline God to forgive.
Under these three words are inscribed three others: “teshuva” (return the heart to God), the “Tefillah” (prayer), and “tsedaqa” (justice). This mean that the exterior fast, the voice rises to God (on Rosh Hashana, it is the voice of the shofar), the money we give to charity, must match the inner attitudes of desire to return to God, true prayer is relationship with God and true justice, which is the right attitude towards our neighbor.
Is this the key to understanding Matthew ch. 6: “When you fast .. When you pray .. When you give alms?
It does not mean to go into your room and hide, to fast, pray, give alms, but to do all this with the depth of interiority required by these attitudes and not because others are watching.
Here we have another fact of Jewish tradition, extremely important the “kavvanat ha lev” the intention of the heart to be right, pure, directed to God and Him alone.
Sr. Anne Catherine April NDS