Fasting While Eating

By Binyomin Adilman

This week's parasha presents the concept of the Nazir, the consecrated one who vows not to partake of grape products, cut his hair, or voluntarily become defiled for the dead. The 15th century physician and Torah commentator, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, offers this perspective: "The one who wishes to separate himself in order to become Holy to G-d needn't accept upon himself lengthy fasts and self-mortifications which are dangerous for his health and weaken his ability to engage in his divine service. Rather he need only follow a simple course of action - he abstains from wine and all related grape products. In this way he weakens and subjugates his baser inclinations." (Num. 6:2-3, paraphrased)

The Sefas Emmes also has a take on this idea. A man must learn "…to be detached from the desires of the physical world, yet at the same time live a worldly existence". A person must eat drink sleep and attend to the rest of his physical requirements. Nevertheless he must understand that his essence is his Torah learning and his prayer. His self control in eating is tantamount to fasting…

This is the idea of Fasting while Eating. One eats, yet restrains himself from filling his belly. A certain food which he loves to eat, he will deny himself for a period of time. Instead of eating everything which is put before him, he leaves a bit sitting on his plate. Although he is partaking of the food, his self control in eating is tantamount to fasting. This kind of eating transcends the realm of mere pleasure. It is totally for the sake of maintaining his health in order to be prepared for divine service.

This is the lesson of the Nazir. The Nazir vows to abstain from drinking wine, cutting his hair and coming into contact with the dead. His effort and sacrifice is minimal, yet the result is a greater measure of holiness. A sincere endeavor to remain mindful while partaking of the physical world begets a discipline which leads to a greater level of Holiness and attachment to G-d.


[Based on Sefas Emmes on the Torah by Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, Rebbe of Gur; first published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Naso 5760]

Rabbi Binyomin Adilman is the former head of the Nishmas Chayim Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Back issues of his weekly parsha sheet, B'ohelei Tzadikim, from which this article was taken, may be found on www.nishmas.org.

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