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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