On this blessed Yom Kippur, considered the highest of Holy Days in Judaism and for those of us who seek true obedience to God in the manner He gave to all who are His, a rather disturbing subject has emerged. That subject is whether or not Yom Kippur calls for a day of fasting.
Seems that many out there, some well respected, are spreading the argument that a "fast" is not part of Yom Kippur; rather, all it calls for is "rest" - no work for you and you should not have anyone working for you that day. Somehow they see that interpretation in full compliance with scripture. But is it in compliance with scripture?
Here are the verses most often referenced to make the case:
"And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever." (Leviticus 16:29-31, ESV).
Most then go into a long explanation that the Hebrew word, תענו, ("tayanu") translated here as "afflict" in English, in no way carries the meaning or requirement to "fast" because the Hebrew word for "fast" is וצומו, (ve'tzumu). Thus they conclude that the scripture says that "afflict yourself" means to not work that day. Therefore, by their deep, scriptural analysis, they have found a way to eliminate the requirement for fasting on Yom Kippur.
But somehow they miss that the phrase says "afflict yourself". Well, actually it says
תענו את־נפשׁתיכם, "te'anuh et-nafsh'tim", roughly "afflict your souls". The Hebrew word for "nephesh", translated into English, actually means much more than "souls", and the phrase truly reads that each person is doing something special and not simply "taking the day off."
The days of no work
All of God's Holy Days are Shabbats! For each one we are commanded to do no work. The weekly Sabbath is commanded for no work:
"Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places." (Leviticus 23:3, ESV).
No, "afflict your soul" associated with the weekly Sabbath!
Then in Leviticus 23:6-8 we learn that the first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread are Sabbaths on which there is to be no work. No, "afflict your soul" associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Then we learn in Leviticus 23:21 that Shavuot is a Holy Day with no work, and the 1st of Tishri in Leviticus 23:24-25 is a Holy Day with no work, as are the 1st and eighth days of Sukkot (Leviticus 23:34-36) ... and on all these Holy Days of no work we do not find "afflict your soul" associated with these Holy Days.
But there in Leviticus 23:27, there it is again: "Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD." (ESV). So clearly, since Yom Kippur is a day of no work, it is also a day to "afflict your soul."
So can we find out what this means?
Yes we can! All arguments aside, as to the meaning of "afflict" and whether or not "fasting is implied or required", simply turn to scripture:
"And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Here we find God "humbled" His people by making them hungry! The English word "humbled" here is from ויענך, ("vey'ane'cha"), the same word as "afflict" in Leviticus 16 and 23!
So there you have it. To "afflict your soul" truly does mean "become hungry"; that is, to "fast". And we are even told why: "...that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD "!
And if Deuteronomy 8:3 does not "cement" this for you, then read verse 2:
"And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not." (ESV)
So next Yom Kippur, when you try to find some reason not to fast, is that not actually testing your heart? How about fasting that day so you can dwell on not living by food alone!