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, Yom Kippur 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, Jews elevate food 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, to eat or with which to decorate the home.

In Tractate Kiddushin of the Jerusalem Talmud, our Sages teach: “On the [ultimate] 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 embraced by National Hermit Day reflects the practices made popular by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a 19th century Chassidic rebbe and the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Nachman advocated hitbodedut, engaging in daily self-seclusion focused on conversing privately with God.

This Treat was originally posted on June 19, 2013.

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