Why We Fast on Yom Kippur

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It’s only a few hours until Rosh Hashanah, and I am well into my predictable freak out about having enough food for the holiday. Tonight I am hosting a very large group, and again on Friday. In between I’m attending meals where I’m bringing a contribution. This means a lot of cooking and chopping and baking and washing and rewashing of dishes. The first thing I did this morning was make a To Do list that stretched into three columns.

I am trying–really trying– to do a mental preparation for the holiday too. I have been calling and emailing friends who I owe apologies, and thinking about specific things I want to meditate on and change in the coming year. But truthfully, the bigger chunk of my attention is definitely the one that focuses on making sure there’s enough food, that it’s delicious, and that all of my guests enjoy themselves and have a good experience at dinner.

It occurred to me this morning as I rode to work, mind racing as fast as my bike, that feeding my friends and family actually gets in the way of my fulfilling my Rosh Hashanah obligation. Now, I’m not going to be abandoning my friends this year, or in the future. But, as I stress about the next three days, I see a new value in Yom Kippur. There is a quick meal at its beginning, and a more relaxed meal at its end, but the holiday is not about feeding and entertaining people. Going into Yom Kippur I won’t be feeling the same panic as I do now. In the time that I might normally spend menu planning, shopping, and then running around my kitchen like a madwomen, I’ll instead be doing some appropriate soul searching, and having some tough conversations.

I have always been a weirdly good faster. I get headaches in the afternoon, but otherwise feel completely fine, even after a 25 hour fast. As a result, the point of fasting never really resonated. But suddenly, I get it. For me, the value of the fast isn’t in actually abstaining from eating–it’s from abstaining from planning and preparing and hosting.

Posted on September 8, 2010

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3 thoughts on “Why We Fast on Yom Kippur

  1. Annie

    As a woman, Y”K is definitely one of the “better” holidays for my personal spiritual development. I can get to shul on time, I don’t have to leave early to prep the meal, and no dishes to wash.

  2. ronnie

    To me Yom Kippur is all about my proud Jewish heritage and especially about my forefathers. I fast to remember our marvelous and unique history and to reflect and cleanse myself.
    I am not a very religious women but this time of year (Rosh Hashanu, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simcha Torah) memories of my Bubba and Zada;Aunts & Uncles; Cousins make me smile a great deal and make me so extremely proud and happy I want to observet. Iy is a joy!

  3. Lou

    Fasting on Yom Kippur means no concern about eating, finding the food, preparing it, and with no breakfast, I leave the house quickly and get to Shul easily. Without breaks for lunch, the day is a completely spiritual day. I use the bread between the morning services and the afternoon services reading the Chumash, wherever it opens to– and it always opens to a meaningful passage. By the time Neilah starts, my hunger pains have left, I am a little light headed, but otherwise I am completely engrossed in the prayers and the thoughts of Teshuvah and a new year starting. The thoughts of past Yom Kippurs when I was little fill my head. I remember standing next to my father as he said the Shimona Esra and I would play with the tzitis on his Talit. We attended a conservative Shul that had a beautiful choir and beautiful melodies I still remember. I am now 74 and the older generation is no longer with me, not physically, but they are everpresent with me in my head and memories. All of this makes Yom Kippur a wonderfully special day and I almost regret it ending, except that I am so voraciously hungry and can hardly wait to get to that Break Fast.

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