Most of you reading this 5782 High Holyday issue of The Voice are familiar with intermittent fasting as a strategy for meal timing scheduling, but what is the purpose of the fasting ritual in Jewish tradition, and specifically, during the High Holy Day season?
The Talmudic tractate Berachot (17a), the personal prayer recited by the 4th century Babylonian, Rabbi Sheshet, is an indication of how our ancestors regarded the true purpose of fasting. “Sovereign of the Universe, You know full well that in the time when the Temple in Jerusalem was standing, if a person sinned, he would bring a sacrifice and find atonement. Now, I am fasting as a sacrifice, pray that I find favor in Your sight.” In other words, fasting on a personal level is believed to cleanse our souls, express remorse, and use our physical bodies to become more attuned to the spiritual motivation for the day. The tension is the point.
And many people find the Yom Kippur fast very difficult. For those of us accustomed to eating well, hunger pangs on Yom Kippur serve as a reminder that sacrifice on a small or large scale can be transformative. The pain of fasting for one day can also remind us that there are people who feel this pain most of the year, even right here in Memphis. The Talmud teaches, “The merit of fasting is the charity dispensed” (Berachot 6b). Temple continues this custom by running the High Holyday Food Drive to benefit the Mid-South Food Bank and MAZON, the Jewish response to hunger. To support this initiative, send checks to Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund, marked “High Holy Day Food Drive.”
Some must forego fasting to maintain their health and well-being. Among my favorite selections in the exquisite Reform High Holy Day Prayerbook, Mishkan Hanefesh is a meditation for those unable to fast. Any person taking necessary medications for a health condition is commanded NOT to fast, hence this beautiful prayer written by an observant and committed Jew in our Reform Movement:
I was not able to fast on this Holy Day due to health reasons – and this I regret.
But I am thankful for all that I am able to do, I am grateful to the Jews of other times and places who shaped Yom Kippur into a spiritual peak that calls out: “You can climb higher than you think.”
I am grateful for the rich spiritual tapestry of these holy days: the multifaceted wisdom of prayers, sermons, and Torah, the music and the melodies, the radiance of our Temple sanctuary draped in white, the piercing cry of the Shofar.
I am grateful for teshuvah, which makes the High Holy Days a turning point in my life: a time of return, a time of change, a season of response.
I am grateful for my bond with my congregation and the Jewish people, the great family of Jews throughout the world: those who stand with me this day and those who do not – the companions who surround me here, and those whose presence I feel when I hear the sound of Torah and the vibrant notes of teruah-shevarim-tekiah.
I was not able to fast on this Holy Day due to health reasons.
But my gratitude and the offerings of my heart are deep beyond words.
Temple Israel family, I wasn’t able to say last year at this time what I’m about to say… see you at Temple for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and throughout the upcoming High Holy Days! On behalf of the entire Temple Israel Clergy Team, L’shanah tovah umetukah – a sweet and healthy year to all.