The seventh chapter of Zechariah wrestles with a major issue, not only with this book, but the prophets and Scripture in general, the issue of religious practice versus true faith.
Some men were sent to the prophet to ask if they should continue to observe the fast wherein they mourned for the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av, the fast of the fifth month. The people’s purpose in the fast was to show sorrow for the disaster that had struck the Kingdom of Judah, the nation of Israel at large, and express repentance for the sin which had led to this point.
Adonai replies (quoting from the Tree of Life Bible),
”When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh months for the past 70 years, did you really fast for Me? When you eat and drink, are you not eating and drinking for yourself? Are not these the words that Adonai proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem with its surrounding cities were inhabited and prosperous, when the Negev and the lowland were inhabited?”
Again the Lord adds,
”Thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot: ’Administer true judgment and practice mercy and compassion each to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the outsider or the poor. Furthermore, do not let any of you devise evil against one another in your heart.’ “
“But they refused to pay attention. They stubbornly turned their backs and stopped their ears from hearing. Indeed, they made their hearts as hard as flint preventing them from hearing the Torah or the words that Adonai-Tzva’ot sent by His Ruach through the former prophets. Consequently, great wrath came from Adonai-Tzva’ot. It came about that just as He called and they did not listen, so they would call and I will not listen, says Adonai-Tzva’ot…”
What sobering words these are! Fasting is not a magic spell tricking God to do our will or purpose, just as it was not in the days of Zechariah. There is no substitute for a humble, repentant heart!
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is on the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.