Fast Days: Judges 20: A Holistic Approach
“17 And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword; all these were men of war. 18 And the children of Israel arose, and went up to Beth-el, and asked counsel of God; and they said: ‘Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of Benjamin?’ And the LORD said: ‘Judah first.’ 19 And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah. 20 And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin; and the men of Israel set the battle in array against them at Gibeah. 21 And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah, and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites on that day twenty and two thousand men. 22 And the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves, and set the battle again in array in the place where they set themselves in array the first day. 23 And the children of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until even; and they asked of the LORD, saying: ‘Shall I again draw nigh to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?’ And the LORD said: ‘Go up against him.’ 24 And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day. 25 And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword. 26 Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto Beth-el, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even; and they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the LORD.”
They were convinced that they were fighting for God and justice. They had asked God before going into battle. They were doing all that they thought they should, and still, their enormous army was defeated by a tiny force from the Tribe of Benjamin. So, after their first defeat, they encouraged themselves, prepared for battle, cried to God and asked again, and yet, they were defeated a second time. They understood that their efforts were still lacking; they decided to take a more holistic, all-encompassing approach. They cried. They sat before God. They fasted. They offered both Burnt-offerings and Peace-offerings.
They cried before they fasted. They “sat before God,” before they fasted: They did not first declare a fast; they prepared for their fast.
After they expressed their awareness of their lackings with their tears, they did Teshuva and “sat before God,” meaning they wanted to return to His Presence so that their fast was an expression of their tears and desire for closeness.
They then offered two types of offerings; Burnt-offerings that are entirely for God, and Peace-Offerings that are for all parties; God, the Kohanim, and the people. Their fast was expressed as both “burning their flesh for God” as with a Burnt-Offering, and their desire to live in Peace and Wholeness with God, undistracted by physical needs and desires.
This is the holistic approach to fasting. Preparation of tears and regret over the past, followed by an expression of desire for closeness. Our fast too, should begin with preparation of regret over the past and a demonstration of desire for closeness, which can be a heightened awareness when going to the synagogue.
The official fast follows Teshuva and desire for intimacy.
The fast is then expressed in two ways throughout the day: Things we do as an Olah, Elevation-Offering, such as extra Chesed and prayer, and things we do as a Shelamim, an empowering partnership with God, such as Chesed focused on empowering someone, helping them find a job or helping them with their children, and choosing an Attribute on which to develop higher skills.