Reflection on Yom Kippur

Updated 2020

The purpose of fasting on Yom Kippur; Removing the Stumbling Block

Saying that the high holy day season is a busy time of year for Jewish professionals is like suggesting that a teacher has a “few things to do” in the week leading up to the opening of school; it’s truly a profound understatement. The holy days require many hours of thoughtful preparation in writing, teaching, cooking, cleaning, and so much more. We work to prepare our children & families, our teachers & students, our many congregants; not to mention that we must somehow find the time to prepare ourselves. And now, amidst a global pandemic? It is a whole different kind of preparation, one we have never before encountered.

Many of us now have "virtual" Rosh Hashanah experiences behind us, so we may feel like we know what to expect, but we really do not. Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, brings opportunities for deep introspection. And for many it is typically a day spent in synagogue and/or fasting, not a day spent in one's living room watching services via Zoom. Do not get me wrong, I am deeply grateful for the technology that is making it possible to experience worship without gathering. I am just suggesting that we need to give ourselves the space to recognize that this is not how we want it to be, and let ourselves feel whatever emotion accompanies that. I think we need to give ourselves permission to experience Yom Kippur in whatever way we need to, given the strange challenges in the world around us. Whatever that looks like, it's ok. 

And an important thought from my wise friend and colleague, Rabbi Ken Carr:
"Fasting on Yom Kippur is a call to a higher level of ethical behavior. It is a signal to recognize the responsibility we bear to other people. It is a shofar blast awakening us to our ability to improve the lives of those who need our help. This true fast is not easy, certainly not as easy as simply not eating and drinking. If our fasting is easy, then the fast will not have served its real purpose. So let us not wish each other a tzom kal, an easy fast; instead, let us wish each other a tzom tov, a good fast, a productive fast, a meaningful fast that leads us to action on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves."

I wish each of you a tzom tov, a good fast. May this Yom Kippur be a meaningful holiday for those who observe, in whatever way you are able to observe.

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