May 21, 2024
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Fasting on Yom Kippur is not easy but it is not intended to be torture or even a punishment. According to most scholars, it is intended to help a person shift the focus from the physical to the spiritual. On the Day of Atonement, we should be consumed with prayer, not praying to consume. We should be full of utterances, not utterly full.

Fasting, like having perspective, tends to get easier with age. This probably is because the older you get, the more distractions there are and the less you rely on snack time. At some point, fasting becomes relatively effortless, unless your synagogue is across the street from or within whiffing distance of a (non-kosher) bakery or pizzeria.

For those who struggle with fasting on Yom Kippur, it might be helpful to consider that it could be worse. Granted, for the average “essen & fressen” Jew, few things could be worse than not eating. In fact, some Jews are so dependent on eating at all times that they can’t make it from breakfast to lunch without eating brunch in between. (Yes, some also eat “linner” between lunch and dinner.) Other Jews spend their time either eating or talking about eating. I have actually overheard some Jews discussing their next meal while in the midst of consuming a feast. The conversation included an intense debate over exactly when they were going to become milchig, which was discussed with the type of precise calculations used to launch space shuttles.

So, fasting—especially for 24 hours—is not easy for the average Jew. That said, there really are some things that would be worse than fasting and if you stop and think about them, they might make your fast easier. The following is a list of hypothetical situations that arguably would be worse than fasting for 24 hours:

(1) 24 hours of devastatingly negative yet completely accurate teacher feedback during prolonged parent-teacher conferences;

(2) 24 hours of synagogue board meetings to discuss inane and mind-numbing topics such as whether to (i) switch the lightbulbs in the sanctuary from incandescent to florescent, (ii) expand the beverage selection at the shul-sponsored kiddush to include both regular and diet ginger ale and (iii) revamp the shul’s weekly newsletter so that more than five congregants actually read it from cover to cover;

(3) 24 hours of waiting on line at Disney World’s Space Mountain, only to find out that the ride has been closed due to mechanical malfunctions;

(4) 24 hours of listening to a cacophony of Purim gragers mercilessly awaken you every time you are about to fall asleep;

(5) 24 hours of listening to your elderly parents or grandparents discuss age-specific topics like (i) not missing the early-bird special, (ii) whether mahjongg is spelled with one “g” or two, (iii) whether there is a draft in the house that requires the wearing of a sweater and (iv) whether anyone under the age of seventy uses the terms valise, frigidaire or dungarees;

(6) 24 hours of listening to your spouse itemizing and then expounding on your inadequacies;

(7) 24 hours of watching the baking process of a 24-hour kugel;

(8) 24 hours of eating your heart out;

(9) 24 hours of mediating a dispute between the synagogue’s junior congregation and adult minyan as to which has more ruach;

(10) 24 hours of eating in a bee-infested sukkah after showering with honey shampoo;

(11) 24 hours of synchronized swimming in the Gowanus Canal;

(12) 24 hours of pushing your way on to an impossibly over-crowded Egged bus;

(13) 24 hours of a seminar discussing why the “k” in knowledge and knife is silent while the “k” in knish and kneidlach is not;

(14) 24 hours of trying to put together a puzzle that is a photograph of you trying to put together the puzzle;

(15) 24 hours of watching the color-blind trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube;

(16) 24 hours of watching the far-sighted trying to find a needle in a nearby haystack;

(17) 24 hours of watching an endless loop of commercials for nonsensical products such as decaffeinated caffeine, edible socks and an invisible remote control;

(18) 24 hours of trying to convince your spouse that forgetting a wedding anniversary is a forgivable offense;

(19) 24 hours of trying to convince your children that it is not completely hypocritical for a parent to constantly scream “Do as I say, not as I do”; and

(20) 24 hours of trying to convince your over-bearing and constantly worried Jewish mother that you are eating and you are happy, even though you are skinny and single.

Final thought: On Yom Kippur, if you are daydreaming about food, then you are two things: missing the point and likely in good company.

By Jon Kranz

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