Tonight is Kol Nidrei, and in the approach to the beginning of Yom Kippur, I have had several people wishing me an easy fast. Automatically, I find myself responding with “G’mar chatimah tova” and wishing them an easy fast as well.
But as I respond this way, I find myself thinking – wait, isn’t the point of fasting to not have it be easy?
Part of my feelings about fasting are that having an empty stomach forces you to put aside the pangs of hunger, and focus on the past year in its entirety. It’s not supposed to be easy, because we are human and being hungry is uncomfortable. It is that physical sensation we feel that represents looking at things I have done, or said, or thought, and dealing with them—as rough as that might be. Nevertheless, it is so very important to be able to do, and start anew.
We brought in a New Year, Rosh Hashanah 5778, last week, and enjoyed the sweetness of the honey, and shared wishes for a “shanah tovah” with family and friends. In a sense, Rosh Hashanah is the party before the “cleanup.” the day leading to and culminating with Yom Kippur.
As we all know, cleaning up is a dirty job, but must be done. If we don’t clean up, things are out of place, garbage litters our path, and life cannot resume its normal way.
Yom Kippur is the “cleanup,” and it is most certainly not supposed to be easy.
So, once again, I wonder: Why do we wish people an easy fast? Maybe in those last moments before we bare ourselves to God and those we have hurt during the past year, we want to say something positive. Or perhaps it has become automatic—the Jewish version of saying “Great, thank you” when someone asks, “How are you?’”.
This is something I know we are all guilty of doing, because when someone asks how you are, it’s not acceptable to respond with the truth. No one wants to hear, “I’m pretty crappy, actually. Do you have a few minutes to listen to my woes?” Just as it is seemingly rude when someone wishes me an easy fast, to respond with, “I hope you have a rough time, since I’m sure you have lots to repent for this year!”
As these days of thought and repentance end, I think I will continue to wish people a “G’mar Chatima Tovah,” as I truly hope all are written and sealed into the Book of Life. I will also respond with hopes that they have a “meaningful fast” as everyone deserves to continually find meaning in whatever way one practices Judaism.
But not easy…no, not easy. Because if there is one thing I am sure of in my 47 years, nothing exceptional is ever simple.