In this Parsha the Torah instructs us to “afflict” ourselves on Yom Kippur, the tenth day of the month of Tishri. The word that is used for the self is “nefesh”, a reference to the soul or essence of the individual. What exactly is meant by affliction? Ibn Ezra, in Parshat Acharei Mot explains that affliction refers exclusively to refraining from eating and drinking. However, Abarbanel says that even though we can say that all fasting is affliction, it is not correct to say that affliction is defined only by fasting. Psalm 102:24 says clearly, “He has afflicted my strength through the wandering of exile.” This is clearly a reference to another kind of affliction. Similarly, the Torah states regarding a wife’s personal vows, “Any vow and any oath-prohibition to cause personal affliction, her husband may let it stand and her husband may revoke it.” (Bamidbar 30:14) It is clear that this is a reference to many examples of personal affliction besides fasting.
Abarbanel offers an expanded definition of this affliction of ourselves, an affliction of our very being. We are commanded to afflict ourselves by eliminating our desire for food, drink, intimate relations and other pleasures. This also includes regret for having previously overindulged, worrying about how this has negatively affected us and chastising ourselves for inappropriate misuse of these desires. This is the essence of the prophet Isaiah’s reproof of the people of his generation when they complained to
Thus, affliction must be understood as everything that causes pain to the soul, the essence of the individual. This is why the Torah states in this Torah portion, “Afflict your souls and bring a fire-offering to