Last week we ate the first fruit for the New Year 5766 and said the accompanying shehechianyu blessing. As you know, there are many people who spend much time and money to prepare the food for Rosh Hashanah. If you walk into a Jewish home on Rosh Hashanah, you will see myriads of food. A virtual smorgasborg from vegetables to fruit, fish, soups, salads, various types of meat, desserts, apples and honey, and much more. Some also indulge in kishka, tzimmes, kugel, rugelach, kreplach, and knaidlach. Then, after all these gastronomical treats, G-d commanded us to fast on Yom Kippur?
Furthermore, our sages told us that it is for health, emotional, and spiritual reasons. It is clear in our modern world of medicine that fasting is sometimes can be healthy. I know myself when I need a yearly physical checkup, the nurse and the doctors tell me that I must fast before the blood test. You and I know how it works: you walk in the laboratory and the nurse asks you the first question "have you eaten"? If you answer yes, typically they simply send you back home. According to their view, a person will have a accurate result only if they fast for at least 12 hours before the test. Moreover, in the world of medicine, there are numerous workshops and seminars that teach a person how to detoxify and heal his or her body. They ask us to fast from time to time with special instructions from healthcare personnel. Isn’t it clear after eating so much on Rosh Hashanah that our bodies need a break?
Another explanation that the Rabbis give to us for the fast of Yom Kippur, the only fast out of the six traditional fasts that was commanded from the divine words of the Torah, is to enhance our psychological well-being. Many other religions and cultures also took this idea that originated in Judaism. Some call it mind-body, yin and yang, spiritual and physical. Our Torah tells us unequivocally that in order for people to be truly connected to their inner selves, he or she should remove the yoke of a materialistic body for a short period of time. Theoretically, this means that there is a constant exchange between the parts that we call the mind, the soul, and the needs of the body. Consequently, when the body is resting, the soul is better able to communicate and focus within itself allowing it to be more attached to G-d, our creator.
Last year, in January, I was invited to be a scholar in residence on a celebrity Kosherica cruise to the Caribbean. For me it was a remarkable experience to see people eating all day long. Every hour it was announced that on a different floor there were various foods and people ran to sample and taste the selections. That, along with five other meals a day, made me queasy the very first night.
Furthermore, Maimonides, the famous physician and scholar of the twelfth century, defines Yom Kippur not only as a day of fasting but as a day of respite. His view was that resting the body created a new capability for enriched dialogue and exchange between a person’s spiritual needs and his or her emotional feelings. Thus, there is a chance on Yom Kippur to be able to feed our "soul" with nourishment via spiritual satisfaction leading to a deeper state of contentment. Likewise, when a person is able to confess to the Almighty, admit their wrong doings, and ask for forgiveness, they can open a new chapter establishing an altered relationship between them and G-d.
In summation, we fast on Yom Kippur for a combination of emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits. These aspects help us unite those life forces within ourselves to attain a higher level of self actualization and strengthen our resolve to pray, learn Torah and to perform good deeds. During Yom Kippur, we have a unique opportunity to practice this commandment in our second home, Kneseth Israel Synagogue, our house of prayer and enlightenment. Our target goal is to fulfill our unique mission to improve ourselves and the world surrounding us.
May these meaningful and sacred experiences of the High Holidays bring us to greater spiritual heights. Amen.