Raboyseyee and Ladies,
Extreme Dieting: Moshe Style
Our sages tell us that Moishe Rabaynu was very tall? How tall? The heylige Toirah does not mention his height, nor his weight, but was he efsher also heavy? Says the heylige Gemora (Berochos 54b and Shabbis 92a) azoy: Moishe was ten cubits tall. That puts him at about 15 feet. Avada you recall this height from the time he engaged in warfare with Oig. King of Bashan. Another medrish tells us that Moishe was ten Amos tall (between 15-20 feet, based on the question of the size of an Amah) and he jumped ten Amos and hit Oig’s knee. Ober was Moishe also heavy? And if he was, what did he do about it? And why do we ask? Let’s find out.
According to the heylige Internet, obsession with weight -how to lose some or a lot- dates back at least 150 years. Is that emes? Can we efsher kler (wonder) if the first cavewoman asked the first caveman, “Does this loincloth make my tuchis look big?”
Americans spend over $61 billion a year on diet products. Grada when compared to what we Yiddin spend on kugel, kishka, cholent, cake, and challah, it’s not that much. Why is so much spent on diet pills, diet books, diet sodas, meal replacement products, diet foods, and fads designed to help them lose weight? They know they’re a shtikel or more overweight. And because the emes is azoy: 78% of us Americans are either overweight or obese, and those percentages keep increasing even though we jump from one new diet fad to another. We also know that 97% of those who manage to lose weight gain it back within three years, when they’ll be back on board to buy the next diet gimmick.
Why do we overeat? Because we love food and especially so the Yiddin. Our lifestyles -to include weddings, bar mitzva’s, the shul kiddish, school dinners, fundraisers, Pesach programs, stam azoy eating out, and other indulgences- have us in weekly battles. We eat kugel, kishka, challah, and dessert, it’s what we do! We have no control. Comes the kiddish or the shmorg at an affair, and shoin: no Jew has ever won the battle of the shmorg. The shmorg is in fact more powerful that the yetzer horo himself, and avada you all know that he’s no slouch. And since we started, let’s also -just in case any of you are contestants on Jeopardy- review these few factoids. Before modern weight loss fads, in either 1860 or 1863 (it’s a machloikes) an English undertaker by the name of William Banting weighed 202 pounds on a five-foot five-inch frame. Like most dieters, he tried everything to lose weight, including eating lighter foods, swimming, spas, and laxatives. He finally lost 50 pounds on a diet he invented himself, and went on to publish it in a pamphlet called “Letter on Corpulence.” The pamphlet sold thousands of copies all over the world, and so many people were on it that the term “I am banting” meant “I am on a diet.” The bottom line: Dieting, in some form, is here to stay!
Ober, long before people -male and female- became diet obsessed, the heylige Toirah given in the year 2448, describes one diet and the first person ever to try it. Who was this person? Was weight lost? How much? How long was the person on a diet? Did it work? What happened thereafter? Is this topic mamish discussed in the heylige Toirah? And how are these question at all related to our parsha of Mishpotim which seemingly describes events just past Matan Toirah (Revelation) and which according to the Sefer HaChinukh contains 53 of the 613 commandments? As an aside, other than in similarly mitzvah-laden parshas (such as Re’eh, Shoftim, Ki Saytze, and possibly Kedoishim) it is hard to find a more random list of mitzvis that are not overall thematically connected. The bottom line: Mishpotim is a smorgasbord of mitzvis; we can all relate.
Who taka was the first to experiment with dieting extreme? We shall find out below and one thing is zicher: The Internet and Wikipedia are wrong: we read about the first diet in Sefer Devorim where Moishe retells the events leading up to Revelation (last week’s parsha) and what took place after the RBSO sent him down carrying the Luchois which he shattered when he laid his eyes on the feasting going on.
It is commonly known that Moishe spent 40 days and 40 nights without any physical nourishment in the presence of the RBSO – a feat no other human has accomplished in history. No food and no drink, fartig. And we know this how? Because so Moishe tells us directly in the heylige Toirah as we will read mamish below. Ober, did Moishe fast but once, twice or three times? Says the heylige Toirah (Devorim: 9:9) azoy:
בַּעֲלֹתִ֣י הָהָ֗רָה לָקַ֜חַת לוּחֹ֤ת הָֽאֲבָנִים֙ לוּחֹ֣ת הַבְּרִ֔ית אֲשֶׁר־כָּרַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה עִמָּכֶ֑ם וָאֵשֵׁ֣ב בָּהָ֗ר אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יוֹם֙ וְאַרְבָּעִ֣ים לַ֔יְלָה לֶ֚חֶם לֹ֣א אָכַ֔לְתִּי וּמַ֖יִם לֹ֥א שָׁתִֽיתִי׃
I had ascended the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the Tablets of the Covenant that the LORD had made with you, and I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, eating no bread and drinking no water.
Ober when did these 40 days and forty nights, the one’s referred to above spoken my Moishe in Sefer Devorim, take place? Not in Devorim! Moishe was but recounting the events of this week’s parsha and that’s how we tie this topic in so gishmak. Let’s put it all together now.
Says the heylige Toirah (Shmois 24: 16-18), azoy: “And the glory of the RBSO dwelt on Mt. Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days, and He called unto Moishe on the seventh day from the cloud. And the appearance of the glory of God was like a devouring fire at the summit of the mountain in the eyes of the Children of Israel. And Moishe came in the midst of the cloud, and he ascended the mountain, and it was that Moishe was in the mountain 40 days and 40 nights.”
And we ask azoy: Ershtens (firstly), what is the importance of Moishe’ 40-day stay on Sinai? In Devorim, Moishe tells the Yiddin that he fasted during these first 40 days on Sinai. Says the Ibn Ezra: Moishe’s fast of 40 days and 40 nights is a “great, unprecedented wonder.” Ober who told Moishe to fast? Did the RBSO tell Moishe to get into shape? We are not told. Did Moishe decide that now was the right time to slim down up? Wouldn’t we, were we summoned up for a meeting? Let’s think about that: He was there meeting the RBSO and avada he wanted to look good. Ober, what would be lost had Moishe not fasted? Would he still have received the heylige Toirah? We assume the answer is yes, as it says (24:12), “Ascend the mountain to Me and remain there and I will give you the Tablets of stone, and the Toirah and the Mitzvah which I have written to teach them.” There is no mention of Moishe having to fast as a condition precedent. What difference would it make had Moishe received the Tablets, without fasting?
Shoin, let’s chazer (review) the order of Moishe’s ascensions on Sinai. Moishe first received and wrote the Toirah, commencing with Bereishis and concluding with the event of Matan Toirah on Sinai. We read all that last week. Seemingly, all of the Toirah’s historical content subsequent to Sinai (Parshas Yisroy) was not yet given to Moishe at Sinai, at least not during that first visit. Says Rashi, (Shmois 24:4,7): this is a reasonable position since all subsequent events recorded in the heylige Toirah -from Yisroy through Devorim- had yet to transpire. Had the case been otherwise and future events comprising the Yiddin’ many future sins already foretold and recorded in advance as facts that Moishe would transit, free will would have been affected, and they could have pled not guilty to all their sins. Moreover, free will is part of the RBSO’s will and how He runs the world. Veyter.
Moishe then descended Sinai and informed the Yiddin of this Toirah, which they accepted. On the 7th of Sivan, Moishe ascended Sinai for his first of three 40-day periods on the mountain, to receive the first Tablets. On his last day – 17th of Tammuz – Moishe learned of the Yiddin sinning with the Golden Calf. He remains there on the mountain that last day, davens ( and pleads) for the Yiddin not to be destroyed, and receives a favorable reply from the RBSO as we will be reading in Parshas Ki Sisa 32:14. Ober, let us keep in mind that during these 40 days until the Yiddin sinned, Moishe’s abstinence from food was not on account of any sin, since no sin was revealed to him until day 40. In other words, and seemingly without instruction, Moishe may have decided to fast on his own. Why? Ver veyst? Either he wanted to look good before the RBSO, or, food and drink were not required or desired while in the presence of the RBSO. Veyter.
On the 40th day – the 17th of Tammuz – Moishe came down, broke the first set of Tablets, punished those responsible (had them killed- and ascended to pray for the Yiddin. He davened for 40 days and night, until the 29th of Av. Although the RBSO rescinded His initial decree to kill the nation, the Yiddin still bore the sin – seemingly we do so forever proving of course that the RBSO has a long memory and watch out below- of the eygel caper which Moishe wished to remove during this second 40-day period. At the RBSO’s command to receive a replacement set of Tablets, Moishe descended and quarried a new set of sapphire Tablets on which the RBSO inscribed the original 10 Commandments. He then ascended for a final 40-day period dwelled on the mountain, and received complete atonement for the Yiddin on Yom Kippur, forty days after the 29th of Av. (Rashi).
Interestingly, when describing the actual events at Sinai in Shmois the heylige Toirah omits any mention of Moishe’ abstinence from food or drink, “…and it was that Moishe was in the mountain 40 days and 40 nights.” Not a word of his abstinence. Why then does Moishe tell the Yiddin about his fasting when he rebukes the Yiddin in Devorim (9:8-9)? The Toirah is silent about his fast until this point:
“And in Horeb you angered G-d, and G-d was angered with you to destroy you. When I ascended the mountain, to receive the Tablets of stone, the Tablets of the Treaty which God forged with you; and I dwelled on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights; bread I did not eat, and water I did not drink.”
And the question is azoy: During those first 40 days to receive the first Tablets, the Yiddin had not yet sinned. Why then did Moishe include this ascent in his rebuke? Additionally, why now does he mention his abstinence from food? And why did he fast? And the answer is ver veyst! We can kler that Moishe fasted post eygel as part of his plan to talk the RBSO down (so to speak) from His plan to hit factory reset and start again. Let us recall that the RBSO did threaten such action and had in fact done so in Noiach’s generation. Did Moishe’s 40-day fast help win atonement? Did his initial 40 day and night fast -pre eygel- help in any way? Again, we don’t know because the RBSO never instructed Moishe to fast. Seemingly Moishe chapped that fasting is good, it cleanses the body and the soul and that fasting may help his cause as the leader of the Yiddin. Or, efsher we can kler azoy: Humans are indeed dependent beings: we require food, clothing and shelter, and other zachin to include sexual needs. It’s how the RBSO programmed us. Shoin! insecurities. At times we become obsessed. At times they become our yetzer horo and we all know how that ends. Moishe, when near the RBSO did not face those challenges. The RBSO can avada override nature and so He did. This is why Moishe tells the Yiddin that he did not eat or drink, even during his first ascent, which had nothing to do with the Yiddin’ sin. During that first stay on Sinai, Moishe’s attachment to the RBSO caused his normal needs to become obviated.
The bottom line: answers to why Moishe fasted without instruction and orders, we don’t really know with certainty. What we do have however are examples of where fasting was undertaken voluntarily and the results. As to Moishe’s second 40 day fast, we can kler that was directly related to the sin of the eygel and his plan to seek forgiveness.
Ober is fasting -other than on Yom Kippur- and other days enacted by our rabbis- required? Is it healthy to fast? Does fasting help the cause?
Fasting to get something from the RBSO is a very old idea, and is found in the heylige Novee over and again. Let’s again look at the Ois’s favorite character Dovid Hamelech (King David) who fasted so his sick son would live: The RBSO [2 Shmuel 12:16-24] afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to Dovid (recall they became entangled in some unauthorized chapping), and it became critically ill. Dovid entreated the RBSO for the boy. He fasted, and he went in and spent the night lying on the ground… On the seventh day the child died… Dovid asked his servants, “Is the child dead?” “Yes,” they replied. Thereupon Dovid rose from the ground; he bathed and anointed himself, and he changed his clothes. He went into the House of the Lord and prostrated himself. Then he went home and asked for food, which they set before him, and he ate. His courtiers asked him, “Why have you acted in this manner? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but now that the child is dead, you rise and take food!” He replied, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept because I thought: ‘Who knows? The Lord may have pity on me, and the child may live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will never come back to me.” David consoled his wife Batsheva; he went to her and lay with her. She bore a son and she named him Shlomo – the bottom line: fasting didn’t work, so Dovid quickly moved on. That was the bad news: the good news? He got another son, destined to succeed him. The bottom line: seemingly, the RBSO wanted Solomon the Wise, and not the older son, to succeed Dovid.
Is fasting the right way to ask the RBSO for help? Nu, avada that depends on whom you ask as not all rabbis agree; what else is new? . Moreover, the entire tractate of the heylige Gemora Taanis is dedicated to various discussions on fasting. Let’s look at one: says the heylige Gemora azoy: Shmuel said: He who fasts is called a sinner… -Rabbi Eleazar said: He is called holy [if he can fast with no harm to his body, because everyone has a duty not to damage his body]… -Resh Lokish said: He is called pious… -Rabbi Sheyshes said: The young yeshiva student who fasts [is not meritorious]… -Rav Yirmeyah bar Abba said that Resh Lokish said: A Toirah scholar is not permitted to … fast, because [his fasting] reduces [his strength for the] heavenly service [of Toirah study and mitzvis.] [Taanit 11a-b] In Tosefta, we read: Rabbi Yosei said: One has no right to afflict himself by fasting, lest he become a burden on the community, which will then have to provide for him. [Tosefta Taanis 2:12]. All clear? Great!
Another story looks down on even praying for mercy: In the years of Rav Yosef there was a divine anger, manifested by world hunger. The Sages said to Rav Yosef: Let the Master pray for mercy concerning this decree. He said to them: Now, the prophet Elisha … would not pray for mercy at a time of divine anger and famine, [so] should I [who have much less merit] pray for mercy? [Ketsivis 106a]. Fasting is practiced by mystics and kabbalists. Chassidic Jews are opposed to it; eating is the way to go. Make a lechaim and farbreng (party).
The bottom line. Fasting for relief may have psychological effects even if it doesn’t work, because it makes people feel they are not helpless, that there is something they can do to control the events around them. The final bottom line: you are not Moishe and you should likely not ever undertake a 40 day and night fast. He was selected to meet the RBSO in person and prepared himself as he thought best. For us common folk -oisvorfs specifically- we are more comfortable waiting to meet the RBSO only after we pass on. Until then, eat, drink and be merry. Le’chaim!
A gittin Shabbis!
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv