Thursday, October 29, 2015

National Hermit Day

Judaism is not known for encouraging asceticism. While the Torah commands the Jewish people to “afflict” themselves on Yom Kippur by fasting and refraining from certain pleasurable activities, it is also a day of communal prayer. On the whole, Judaism focuses on celebrating and sanctifying all the wonders of God’s creation. Instead of refraining from delicious foods, one elevates them by reciting blessings. The celebration of Shabbat centers around feasts of food and wine. In fact, it is customary to festively prepare for each holiday with the purchase of something new to wear, etc. In Tractate Kiddushin of the Jerusalem Talmud, our Sages teach: “On the day of judgment, every human being will be held accountable for everything that he or she beheld and did not partake of.” In effect, the Talmud is stating that God gave the world to humankind, and instructed people to enjoy what He has given. Failure to appreciate God’s world is, in effect, a sin, denying God’s benevolence.

Today, October 29th, is National Hermit Day. While Judaism’s distaste for asceticism discourages the life of a hermit, it does often share one particular value espoused by National Hermit Day, which is to encourage people to spend time in seclusion and using that time for contemplation. Many feel that this generation, with its ubiquitous personal electronic devices and cell phones, is especially in need of quiet time.

The concept espoused by National Hermit Day reflect the practices made popular by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a 19th century Chassidic rebbe and the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Nacham advocated hitbodedut, engaging in daily self-seclusion focussed on conversing privatly with God.

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