Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yom Kippur 5773

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the entire year. It's a daunting, important day. A lot of people dread it because the fasting and long synagogue hours. But it is the sabbath of sabbaths. In the end it is a happy day because all your sins and all the sins of Israel are forgiven and essentially erased for the coming year.

Fasting in each religion looks a little different. The Yom Kippur fast of Judaism has five components:

  1. No food or drink.
  2. No anointing with oils. IE no makeup, perfume, or cologne.
  3. No sex.
  4. No leather shoes.
  5. No bathing for pleasure.
The first is pretty self explanatory. No food or drink for 25 hours, from sunset tonight until sunset tomorrow. In the US the fast will end around 8 o'clock depending on your location. Please consult hebcal for your city's details. Back in the day, anointing with oils was a little different which is why I gave you a modern day explanation. This day is not about looking good to impress your spouse, lover, friends, or yourself. So you don't need to put on makeup or smell fruity. The third one is technically "no marital relations" but its 2012 and people have pre-marital sex. Just don't do it on Yom Kippur. Back in the day, leather shoes were considered particularly comfortable and a sign of wealth. The day is not about being comfortable and all people are considered equal before G-d. And no bathing for pleasure means don't take a shower tonight after services or tomorrow morning. Shower before hand. But you can wash your hands when you go to the bathroom.

So, some people don't brush their teeth on Yom Kippur because they might accidentally drink some water. But I don't do that. If washing your hands to be sanitary is allowed then brushing your teeth to eliminate terrible morning breath should be allowed. I make a conscious effort not to swallow water so I believe I am acting within the spirit of the day. Fasting will cause enough bad breath, let's not add to it by not brushing our teeth. That's just my opinion, do what works for you.

Yom Kippur is not about starving yourself, as some people might think. Yom Kippur is about detaching from the material world and being immersed in the spiritual. This is a time when you can be totally connected with G-d and disregard the normal day-to-day activities and concerns.

Last year was the first time I fasted, ever. When I was little Ash Wednesday and Good Friday were supposedly fast days but my mother was not interested in me doing that. Wasn't healthy she said. Plus, in the Catholic Church fasting is defined to be a regular meal and two small meals. That sounds like a diet to me, not fasting. So fasting for real was a 100% new to me. I think some people thought I wouldn't be able to do it, I would need to ease into it over a few years. But it wasn't a problem. I was dedicated to atoning for my sins and coming closer to G-d. That's all you need. Do what works for you. Don't let other people or your inexperienced past dictate your holy day. My roommate from last year couldn't believe I was really fasting at first. She'd never seen me be spiritually or religiously dedicated to anything. She knew it was especially difficult for me with my medication that gave me horrible, chronic dry mouth. I rinsed my mouth once the whole day, which was impressive given the fact that I normally would drink water every five minutes just from the dry mouth. We both knew that after really observing Yom Kippur there was no turning back, only moving forward. We both knew one day I'd be a Jew after that first Yom Kippur.

Tonight's service - the Kol Nidre service - is the most highly attended service of the entire year. This is true everywhere. If you are going to synagogue, get there early. In Israel, Jews who don't attend synagogue for the rest of the year still go out to hear the Kol Nidre service. It is common for those Jews to gather outside of synagogues and for the doors to be open so they can hear the service. The phrase "Kol Nidre" means "all vows." The prayer cancels all the vows for the coming (or previous, depending on the tradition of the synagogue) year. Basically, it says G-d forgive me for the promises I will make but will be unable to fulfill. It's preemptive.

Tomorrow night at the Neilah service the judgement for who is written in the Book of Life and who is written in the Book of Death will be sealed. Remember last week when we chanted On Rosh HaShanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed? Yeah, that sealing happens tomorrow evening. The Neilah service is one of quick pace and anxiety. You can feel the gates closing and you want to put in your final plea to G-d. Then you get to break fast with friends and family and be thankful you made it through.

Today is your last chance to apologize to people for your sins against them. And then Yom Kippur is all about apologizing to G-d. If you're dreading the fast, remember it is only one day and it is all for a higher power and a higher good. After tomorrow night you will feel great. You'll have a blank slate for the coming year and can be anything or anyone you want. This is your chance to become the person you've always wanted to be. What a gift.

May you have an easy fast and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life!

No comments:

Post a Comment