To fast or not to fast



September 11, 2017

All week leading up to Yom Kippur I hear people asking one another, “Are you fasting?” This one ritual of abstaining from food and water for 25 hours has become the focus of the most sacred day of the Jewish year.

This was not always the case. Historically the purpose of Yom Kippur was, “to afflict our souls.” And one of the ways the rabbis understood how to do that was by abstaining from food and water. But the list did not end there.

The rabbis also wanted us to abstain from cleaning and washing ourselves (that’s right no brushing teeth or taking showers), anointing ourselves (think no deodorant or perfume), and sex (that one is self-explanatory).

We were supposed to abstain from any behavior that was corrupting our soul. Fasting from food may do that for you, but if the entire time you are obsessing about when you can eat the lox and bagels, then maybe it is time to reassess what you really should be fasting from.

This year on Yom Kippur fast from judgment. Stop looking to see what others are wearing in synagogue. Stop assessing who looks thinner, happier and more together than you this year. That conversation in your head is just one big distraction preventing you from being the compassionate understanding person you really are.

This year on Yom Kippur fast from complaining. In our society complaining has become the way to be heard. We all know the adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” We believe that in order to be acknowledged or seen, we have to complain. But that complaining is corroding our souls. Have you ever complained to a salesperson and then the next day (not five minutes later) felt better about yourself? I don’t think so.

This year on Yom Kippur fast from procrastination. There are always things on our list that keep getting set aside justifiably or not. Maybe start writing the paper two days before it is due. Maybe it is time to work out, text the student who has been sitting next to you in class, go to Hillel or sign up for Birthright Israel. This year, commit to completing one of those tasks on Yom Kippur. I promise you, it will not be easy, but you will be better for it.

Since I was 12, I have been fasting. It is the easiest part of Yom Kippur for me. What is really hard to do is stop the behaviors that are preventing me from developing into the kind of person that I hope to be. This is my prayer for you. Fast or don’t fast from food and water, but fast from some behavior that is pulling you away from you.

I promise you that you will feel cleaner and better from the inside out.

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch currently serves as the senior rabbinic scholar for Hillel International. She is the author of “We Plan, God Laughs” and “Thresholds” (Random House). [email protected]