Fast Days: Samuel I Chapter 7: Nothing Without You
“5 And Samuel said: ‘Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray for you unto the LORD.’ 6 And they gathered together to Mizpah, and drew water, and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there: ‘We have sinned against the LORD.’ And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpah. 7 And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 And the children of Israel said to Samuel: ‘Cease not to cry unto the LORD our God for us, that He save us out of the hand of the Philistines.’ 9 And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a whole burnt-offering unto the LORD; and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD answered him. 10 And as Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel; but the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten down before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Beth-car. 12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying: ‘Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.’ 13 So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more within the border of Israel; and the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 14 And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the border thereof did Israel deliver out of the hand of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites. 15 And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16 And he went from year to year in circuit to Beth-el, and Gilgal, and Mizpah; and he judged Israel in all those places. 17 And his return was to Ramah, for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and he built there an altar unto the LORD.”
They “drew water, and poured it out before God.” Did they pour out water? They poured out their hearts to God the way we pour out water, “Pour out your heart like water before the face of God (Lamentations 2:19).” Then Samuel said, “We have sinned against God.” Rabbi Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak said that Samuel dressed himself in the garments of Israel, and said, “Master of Worlds! Do You judge a man on anything other than on whether he is ready to admit before You that he has sinned? “I will enter into judgment with you, because you say: ‘I have not sinned’ (Jeremiah 2:35).” These people are willing to admit before You that they have sinned! (Yerushalmi Ta’anit 2:7)”
I believe that the juxtaposition of “they drew water and poured it out before God,” with “they fasted that day,” pouring out water they could have drunk even as they begin to fast, is a statement that their fast was to say, “We have nothing without You,” even as they willingly admit, “We have sinned against God.” Our sin was to believe that we had something without You.
This is not fasting as deprivation but fasting as an appreciation that we have nothing without God. We do not eat or drink on days when Israel experienced loss in their relationship with God because we have nothing without Him. This is admitting before God that we sin when we believe that we have anything without Him.
One who fasts with such intention must use every part of the day as an expression of “We have nothing without You.” Each of the morning blessings, heart, mind, eyes, clothes, legs, feet, spine, shoes, should be recited with this intention. We should have this in mind with each thing we have and use during the day, even a car, a kitchen or computer.
This approach to fasting must be combined with an understanding that whenever we use any of God’s gifts without appreciation, we are sinning, especially when we use His gifts to reject him, such as our mouths to speak in forbidden ways.