Posted on | October 8, 2008 | By Azriela Jaffe | 16 Comments
When it comes to the Yom Kippur fast, I have experienced three basic emotions throughout my 48 years). The first was apathy. In our home growing up, we went to synagogue two days a year, Yom Kippur being one of them. And then we came home and had lunch. I didn’t fast for the first time until my mid-thirties. For all of my upbringing and my twenties, I felt no guilt, no ambivalence, really, nothing about it. Fasting on Yom Kippur was for other people, and had no relevance for me. I can’t even say that I felt regret about not fasting. That would have been like asking me if I regretted not ever going para sailing. Nope. It just wasn’t part of my reality, and I didn’t think it should have been, and I felt just fine about missing it.
The next phase of my Yom Kippur fasting we can label “ defiance.” In my thirties, as I began this long process of discovering Judaism, I started looking at the fast differently. Now, I could no longer ignore it. It seemed to have great meaning for so many Jews, and I had begun practicing many other rituals. I now believed that there was a G-d who cared about me, and for whom these practices mattered. I label this phase of the fast – which took about seven years – defiance, because I convinced myself ( with the help of other equally defiant peers), that a G-d who really loved me and wanted my teshuva cared much more about my drawing close to Him, than He cared about me fasting.
I really thought: “If fasting makes me ill, so that I can not pray, certainly G-d doesn’t want that, and if I have to choose between fasting and so-so praying, or fervent praying with a full belly, it is so clear to me that G-d would chose the latter.”
I was so sure of that belief, I was defiant about it ( read – feeling guilty, rationalizing, not ready to face the possibility that the Torah was written by G-d, and that fasting on Yom Kippur was part of the program, lightheadedness or not). In fact, when I attempted fasting for a few years, and gave it up part of the way through the fast because I felt so sick, I was furious about it. I was angry at a religion that would do something as ridiculous (I thought) as expect someone to simultaneously reach emotional depth and soul healing while trying not to faint. I was angry with the Jewish community for making the fast such a big deal. (I had a rebbetzin once tell me that I should be fasting, no matter what, as long as I didn’t need an ambulance to cart me off to the hospital, and that didn’t go over well with me at the time). I was angry with myself for not being able to fast when so much of the Jewish community seemed to do it, young, old, or pregnant. Instead of apathy, I felt shame, and to cover up the shame, I got angry.
And then my children entered day school, and we started growing spiritually as a family, and they came home from school with the knowledge that Mommies and Daddies fast on Yom Kippur. For a few years I snuck food when they weren’t looking, but like so many of the rituals I now keep, I finally “got with the program” so that I could be a good role model for my children, and not create mixed messages about Yom Kippur fasting in the house.
This is when I eventually moved into the emotion I still hold on to today which I’d call “surrender”. I still don’t “get it, why Hashem designed the system the way He did, but I’ve come to accept that this is what it is, and as a Jew, I am commanded to do it. I still feel lousy on fast days, and yes, I’ve tried all the tricks for making it easier and some have worked somewhat, but bottom line, it’s just a day I try to survive, and I count the minutes till the fast is done.
Which brings me to a confession. My davening stinks on Yom Kippur. I am not yet spiritually elevated enough to get past all of my physical symptoms, and to, as they suggest, “ feel like an angel.” I understand the importance of davening on this day, and what is at stake. Each year I try to do better. But I am being honest with you – at best, I might reach a C minus when it comes to davening on Yom Kippur, and more realistically, I probably hover closer to a D.
Call this a rationalization, or perhaps this is a good example of Hashem accepting a BT where we are, as long as we keep striving for better. For me, the Yom Kippur fast is my prayer. I offer it up to Hashem as my sacrifice. I ask Hashem to accept my fast, and the miracle that in my life, surrounded by family who think fasting is stupid, it’s an accomplishment in and of itself. As the afternoon and early evening tests my physical and spiritual and emotional strength, I speak to Hashem, not from a prayer book, but from my heart. And I ask Him to forgive me for my sins of the year, and for not davening properly. I ask Him to take my fast as a symbol of my obedience to him and His Torah, because surely, if He didn’t say do it, I never would.
I learned once that it isn’t proper to wish you an easy fast. I should instead wish for you a meaningful fast.
From one faster to another, I hope that your day is meaningful, and your fast is easy!
First Published on October 8, 2007