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Chapter 121:1
Laws of Public Fast Days

1. It is a positive commandment, based on the words of the prophets, to fast on certain days of the year when calamities occurred to our ancestors. The purpose of these fasts is to arouse our hearts and motivate us [to pursue] the paths of repentance. It should serve as a reminder of our misconduct ("ma'aseinu ha'ra'im"), and that of our ancestors, which resembles our own, and which ended up causing these calamities to occur to them and to us. The recollection of these matters should inspire us to repent and improve our behavior, as [Leviticus 26:40] states: "They shall confess their sin and the sin of their fathers."

Therefore, on these days, a person is obligated to examine his behavior and repent for [any misconduct]. [This, and] not the fasting per se, is the fundamental objective. Thus, in regard to the people of Nineveh, [Jonah 3:10] states: "And G-d saw their deeds..." [The Talmud in tractate Ta'anis 16a] relates: The prophet does not say: "And G-d saw their sackcloth and fasting," but rather, "And G-d saw their deeds, that they had turned from their evil ways."

Fasting is only a preparatory step for repentance. Therefore, those people who fast, but go on pleasure strolls and waste the entire day with useless activities, have fulfilled the secondary aspect [of the day,] while ignoring its primary intent.

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