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Fast Days: Samuel I Chapter 31: Fasting in Mourning Print E-mail

Fast Days1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel, and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. 2 And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, the sons of Saul. 3 And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers overtook him; and he was in great anguish by reason of the archers. 4 Then said Saul to his armour-bearer: 'Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and make a mock of me.' But his armour-bearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took his sword, and fell upon it. 5 And when his armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he likewise fell upon his sword, and died with him. 6 So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armour-bearer, and all his men, that same day together. 7 And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were beyond the Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them. {P}

 

8 And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. 9 And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to carry the tidings unto the house of their idols, and to the people. 10 And they put his armour in the house of the Ashtaroth; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. 11 And when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard concerning him that which the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan; and they came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. 13 And they took their bones, and buried them under the tamarisk-tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”

The seven-day period was a time of mourning. The people of Yavesh Gillad added fasting to their mourning over the tragic death of Shaul and his sons: From where do we learn the duty of showing kindness to mourners? From the people of Yavesh Gilead. For when Shaul and his sons were slain, the men of Yavesh Gilead said: “Are we not bound to show loving-kindness to the man who delivered us from disgrace of the sons of Ammon (See I Samuel, Chapter 9)? All their mighty men arose and went all night to the walls of Beit-Shan, and they took the body of Shaul and the bodies of his sons from the walls.

The Mourners are comforted with bread and wine, as it is said, “Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine to the bitter in soul (Proverbs 31:6).” [Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 17: Loving Service to Mourners)

The inhabitants of Yavesh-Gilead added fasting to their mourning because as long as Shaul and his sons were not buried in Israel, the mourning was incomplete. No consolation was possible. In fact, King David was punished thirty years later with three years of famine because the bodies of Shaul and his sons were not moved to a proper grave. The famine was an extension of the fast of Yavesh-Gilead.

This is a story of fasting as an expression that no consolation is possible. This is also the meaning behind the fasts over the different stages of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash: We fast as a way of saying that no consolation is possible as long as the Beit Hamikdash is not standing.

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