Several articles have been posted in the past week discussing the Jewish New Year, with a few focusing specifically on the issue of fasting for Yom Kippur. Many people don’t like the concept of fasting, and many people don’t see any religious or spiritual value in fasting. I happen to be a person who likes the concept, and who sees and reaps a tremendous amount of religious and spiritual value from fasting. I also have fasted throughout two pregnancies and through nursing babies and toddlers on demand all day and all night.
Am I better than you for fasting while nursing and pregnant? No. Do I work hard to accomplish this? Yes. Here’s why I put in the effort:
1) Fasting is an important religious and spiritual exercise. Fasting and “afflicting ourselves” on Yom Kippur is described in the Torah, which is my personal guidebook for life. I have made a commitment to find a way to apply the wisdom of thousands of years of history and tradition to modern life and it works for me. Praying, singing, chanting, meditating, and spending time away from work and cell phones and cars and electronics is what we Jews have the opportunity to do every week on Shabbat. On Yom Kippur, doing these things while fasting takes it to a different and much more intense level. As it should be: this is the day our year is, in part, determined. It’s a heavy day and fasting sets it apart as intense and meaningful in a special way.
2) Fasting is symbolically important. By peeling away the material parts of our existence through refraining from the sustenance we live by daily, we get to see what’s left over. Without the rhythms of meals, what drives my day? Without snacks to keep my hands busy or to calm my anxiety, what can I do? Look what we think we need, and look what we literally can go without.
3) Fasting makes us angelic. Last Yom Kippur, as the 25th hour of fasting was coming to a close and we were all exhausted and starving and ready to go home, our rabbi said with a huge smile on his face, “I wish this didn’t have to end.” And through my exhaustion and hunger, I felt it too. There is a “high” you get when focusing so much on fasting and praying and just being in your head. Fasting makes us like the angels, they say. We make ourselves literally “above” the need for mortal sustenance. On Yom Kippur, we draw near to a different way of existence and it’s heavenly. Read the rest of this entry →