Fasts for sins mentioned in Iggeres Hateshuva
Regarding the topic of fasting a certain number of fasts for every sin, as mentioned in Iggeres Hateshuva –
Do we still hold by this as a practical thing to do nowadays, and if so does that also include the half-day fasts that he mentions?
The Alter Rebbe distinguishes between the extra fasts, in accordance with the number of times the sin was done total, and the actual fasts totaling the number corresponding to the particular sin.
Although he goes into the whole thing about “only a healthy person etc.”, that was in regards to what he said about the Mekubalim who say to do 3 times the total, then he says to redeem them in tzedakah.
But then he says to complete the total amount at least once in one’s life, to push it off to the short winter days, and for the other number (totaling 3 times the standard amount) to do half-day fasting, and then to be stringent according to the other opinion, to redeem all of the extra ones (that add up to the total multiplied by each time) with tzedakah.
Do we still follow this “baal nefesh” thing nowadays?
Nowadays, personal fasts are not recommended.
The Alter Rebbe writes in the third chapter of Igeret HaTeshuvah that fasting – with the exception of mandatory public fast days – must never come at the expense of one’s health or strength. If fasting will weaken you to the extent that you will not be able to serve G‑d that day with the same energy and vigor as you would have had you eaten—don’t. In fact, the Talmud is very clear about this: One who fasts despite the fact that it weakens him, is called a sinner.
In today’s day and age, when most of us are used to eating three round meals a day, there is almost no one who can claim to be unaffected by fasting.
More importantly, it is the spirit of repentance, the true repentance, that comes along with fasting that counts.
Rather, instead of fasting one should do as the Alter Rebbe brings from the words of Daniel, when advising Nebuchadnezzar: “Redeem your sins with charity, and your wrongdoing by being kind to the needy”. This can be done by donating to a charitable cause the monetary value of the food you eat on a given day.
The Rebbe explains that our generation is even weaker than the Alter Rebbe’s time and accomplishes even these fasts that he permits through tzedaka.
ראה סה״ש תשמ״ט א ע׳ 185. והרי היום לא נהגו להתענות אפילו בה״ב ותעניות עשי״ת וער״ה שנזכרו בשו״ע ופוסקים. וראה בשיחת י״ז בתמוז תשמ״ו (נדפס בקונטרס בין המצרים ע״י ועד הנחות התמימים) בפי׳ דברי אדה״ז שלגבי הג׳ צומות עדיף להתענות ולא לפדות ושאר הצומות ע״י צדקה. ושם בהערה, שמי שאינו בעל נפש ואינו יכול לסבול התענית, אצלו נפעל גם בענין דג׳ הצומות ע״י צדקה. וראה אג״ק טו ע׳ קמב. ובכ״מ.