Friday, September 21, 2007

May you be inscribed in the book of life.

It is said that not fasting on Yom Kippur is better than fasting without purpose. (The fast is introduced in Leviticus, as we are told to afflict our souls and practice "self denial.") It is on Yom Kippur that even most secular Jews take part in services and fasting -- but what is the meaning of such a fast for the secular Jew? On that note, what is the meaning of the fast for a practicing Jew? Is it to suffer? To wilt and wither for but a day? The haftarah (from Isaiah) for Yom Kippur reads:

They say: "Why is it that we have fasted, and You don't see our suffering?
We press down our egoes ... but You don't pay attention!"

Look! On the very day you fast you keep scrabbling for wealth;
On the very day you fast you keep oppressing all your workers.

Look! You fast in strife and contention.
You strike with a wicked fist.

You are not fasting today in such a way
As to make your voices heard on high.

Is that the kind of fast that I desire?
Is that really a day for people to "press down their egoes"?

Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushe
And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast day,
The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?


This is the kind of fast that I desire:

Unlock the shackles put on by wicked power!
Untie the ropes of the yoke!
Let the oppressed go free,
And break off every yoke!

Share your bread with the hungry. Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your house.
When you see them naked, clothe them;
And from your own flesh and blood don't hide yourself.

Then your light will burst through like the dawn;
Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;
Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.
And a radiance from Adonai will reach out behind to guard you.
Then, when you cry out, Adonai will answer;
Then, when you call. God will say: "Here I am!"

So then, it is not suffering that this day entails. Physical starvation is merely a path to open up the mind and soul. The fast is not a black fast as on Tisha B'Av where we mourn the great tragedies of the past, but a white fast. While on many fasts we afflict the body while fasting, it is on Yom Kippur that we afflict the SOUL. It's sort of solemn, but we greet one another with gemar chatimah tovah -- tidings to be inscribed in the book of life for good. The goals are light, teshuvah, reconciliation.

I can understand perhaps why Yom Kippur is so widely practiced among secular Jews. It is said that 95 percent of Israelis fast on this day. I just have to wonder whether it's really SPENT the way it's meant to be spent. That goes for secular Jews and religious Jews, really. It seems that for many, going to synagogue on the High Holidays is this forced requirement. It's just expected. That's what makes me want to avoid shul on the High Holidays, despite the absolute importance of the days. I'd rather be surrounded by 10 people who genuinely soul search than hundreds who are there because it's just what we do. On that note, why don't more Jews really dedicate themselves to understanding the day, it's meanings and gleanings? I find myself ever more frustrated as the days go on here in Chicago at my super large synagogue. I miss my small community. More importantly, I miss knowing that people care; that it's more than just going through the motions. But I will be in synagogue tonight and tomorrow, thinking of the transgressions of all of humanity, not just myself, and hoping that even those whose hearts are not there, are not present, and I will think on them.

I had a chance this year to ask forgiveness from someone who I had hurt so very deeply more than a year ago, but that whom I hadn't been able to ask for forgiveness prior to last Yom Kippur. The pain carried on through this past year, so I felt it was sufficient to ask, and I am glad that I did. I can't express how light I felt when he said he forgave me. It's as if all the sins -- big and small -- are transformed, only through that one granting forgiveness. Now, and perhaps for the next year and beyond, I must work on forgiving myself. Is it wrong to go into the Yom Kippur fast having a continued heavy heart? Forgiving oneself is perhaps harder than asking forgiveness from those that have been wronged -- and this I have learned, and continue to combat.