This past Tuesday was a fast day in the Jewish calendar, a fact that probably never came across your radar screen. Truthfully, even most Jews were unaware of it, as only the relatively small percentage of Jews who observe their faith as their ancestors did make note of the day.
While there are two major fast days during the year (Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av) on which food and drink are prohibited for 25 hours, there are also four other fast days on which eating and drinking are prohibited only from just before sunrise until soon after sunset. While certain special prayers are added on these days, we otherwise function as normal; going to work for instance.
This particular fast last Tuesday, which falls on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tevet, commemorates a number of tragic events in Jewish history. Among these is the translation of the Torah into Greek by order of King Ptolemy of Egypt, many centuries ago. This was the first time that people could access the Torah without coming in touch with the ancient Jewish wisdom that permeates it. Like all the minor fast days, focusing on the historical events misses the point. These are days of mourning because we still suffer from these occurrences. If you have ever heard Scripture misquoted or selectively quoted in support of evil, you understand that we are still afflicted by King Ptolemy’s forced translation.
Personally, I find an interesting side effect to these days. I am generally a breakfast person. When I skip breakfast and get straight to work on these minor fast days, my initial reaction is how much my productivity has increased. Not eating breakfast goes hand in hand with not reading the newspaper (or filling in its crossword puzzle) and I skip my regular morning exercise class too. My early morning work accomplishments multiply. When I miss lunch as well, I am really on a roll.
However, this increased output doesn’t last. By mid-afternoon I am lagging and my concentration is diminishing. My energy runs out and I rarely accomplish much for the rest of the day, negating whatever extra yield the morning hours provided.
Isn’t this true in other parts of our lives? With Chanukah just passed and Christmas almost here, this is a time of year when most of us see more of families and friends than usual. Like my breakfast routine, this leaves less time for us to work and take care of our obligations. The rest of the year, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that relationships are optional and we can save focusing on them for another day. While my flagging energy levels this past Tuesday will hit most people who skip meals, the consequences of ignoring others isn’t as quickly apparent. We can actually go months without speaking to and spending meaningful time with the important people in our lives while our confused brains congratulate us on how efficiently we’re operating. But while a hot drink, small supper and good night’s sleep quickly bring me up to speed after a fast day, the damage that isolation causes is far harder to fix.
Treasure this time and use some of it to plan for more connection with the people you already love. Figure out how to leave time and room to meet and nurture contact with those you do not know yet but whose presence will enrich your life. Wishing my Christian readers a merry Christmas filled with precious moments.