On Being Good: “Is this the fast I have chosen?”

mmmm doughnut ...

(Photo credit: bunchofpants)

“I am not going to eat that doughnut; I’m going to be good.”

If you are an American, you’ve heard it. If you are an American woman, you’ve heard it a lot. But when was the last time you heard yourself or someone else say it about something that actually had moral value?

“I’m to obey every traffic law today. I’m going to be good.”

“I’m going to lobby against my own financial interests in favor of the interests of the poor. I’m going to be good.”

“I’m going to speak kindly to every person I meet for the next hour. I’m going to be good.”

… or even in reference to food:

“I’m not going to buy or eat chocolate that might have been produced by enslaved children. I’m going to be good.”

“I’m not going to buy or eat food that causes human or animal suffering. I’m going to be good.”

In Isaiah 58, God says to Israel:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

What kind of a world could we build if we put the energy into actual good deeds that we put into dieting and diet talk?

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5 Responses to On Being Good: “Is this the fast I have chosen?”

  1. Interesting post, Rabbi Ruth.
    Made me think about the nature and power of words and how seldom we give them their due. Parashat Mattot has a nice take on letters, words and the products of their permutation particularly where vows and promises are concerned. It tells us that promises and agreements made between people are also witnessed by a divine Presence, in effect lending ears to walls. So it occurred to me that maybe when we promise ourselves that we will be ‘good’, we can’t quite convince ourselves that with our words that we are capable of creating new realities. Is this idea an unspoken disclaimer that allows us permission not to fulfill those promises?

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    • rabbiadar says:

      Intriguing thought! I remember learning from Rabbi Richard Levy that the Kol Nidre formula is intended to nullify foolish vows that we make in the heat of the moment on Yom Kippur. (The beautiful story about it having to do with the forced conversions of Conversos in Spain is, alas, refuted by the fact that Kol Nidre goes back much further than 1492, although it might well have been invoked by those forced to make idolatrous vows.)

      But vociferous commitments to be “good” about something that has relatively little moral import… hmmm. You might be onto something.

      Thanks for reading and thanks even more for your comment! And congratulations on the successful kickstarter!

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  2. You’re very welcome. Your posts are always eye-openers and so I enjoy responding. Re your Kol Nidre comment: that Inquisition reference is one I’m particularly aware of at that time of year. I always wonder what choice I would have made under those terrible conditions. Maybe we subconsciously need to build in disclaimer clauses among our moral laws because as good as we think we are, perfect we’re not.

    In case you didn’t get my note, I wanted to tell you that the Kickstarter project could not have made it off the ground without your generous support! At the moment, I am taking an quick break from the current blessing in progress which will be an interpretation of the Shema…

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  3. […] both remember that fasting is a mitzvah, not a contest, and by itself it is not enough. The prophets remind us again and again that ritual observance is empty unless we open ourselves to the transformation that […]

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