Preparing for the Holiest Day of the Year, by Eve Levy
Hello there Chevra!
I remember Yom Kippur as a child. In my social circles it was considered the coolest thing to fast! We would sit in the synagogue halls and talk about who was fasting the entire day, who only made it till lunch time (tisk, tisk), how hungry we all felt and, most importantly, what food we would break our fast on. It was kind of like a right of passage from the age of Bnai Mitzvah, you got the privilege and responsibility to fast on Yom Kippur. The younger kids looked up to us with envy. Like staying up past bedtime, getting to fast was a privilege reserved for your older siblings. The young children would count down the years until it was their turn.
Now, looking back, I see how totally off focus we were with the message of the day. Yom Kippur. Judgment being sealed, a day of atonement, the gates of Heaven being locked… So much potential in the day and yet I was focused only on the gossip of fasting! (What can you expect? I was 12 years old. At least I was in the synagogue and fasting. Two points for me!)
Fast forward 30 years and I’m still fasting and working to connect to the deeper meanings of the day. Some years have been harder than others, such as during pregnancies or nursing babies, but I have been fasting through it all. As I grow I continually try to reflect on my childhood self and push myself to see the fasting not as something to brag about but a trampoline to springboard me into the deeper meaning of this day. When not eating becomes the focus, I struggle with other complexities of the day. I want to let go and connect with the deep prayers but I can’t. I play a game of tug-of-war with my thoughts and feelings, pent up frustrations and pain. The focus of the day has moved to bigger, loftier things. I have bigger fish to fry now. I work on finding the courage and confidence to stand before G-d and beg for life! For myself and all those surrounding me.
It is quite an intense day. In the end, I realize that all of the ping-ponging back and forth in my mind is just the prelude to the real story: No matter how difficult they are, feelings of forgiveness feel better than anything physical. If you give it your all, you walk out feeling a lot lighter. That is a wonderful feeling!
A little-known secret of Yom Kippur lies within the days leading up to it. These days are critical to the celebration itself and to how our year might unfold. Let me explain: When was the last time you went on a roller coaster? Somewhere along the ride, a photo is snapped of you. It can catch you mid-scream or show you hanging upside down. When you come out (and regain your balance) they try to sell you that photo of yourself in that crazy pose for an exorbitant amount of money. Of course you HAVE to buy it to show your friends how brave you were.
On Rosh Hashanah we are told to be our best selves throughout the entire holiday. At some point – and you never know what second it will be – G-d, so to speak, snapped a picture of you. That is your portrait for the year.
We try to be on our best behavior on Rosh Hashanah. We push ourselves to have a constant smile on our face, we show great patience for the kids and spouse, we go to great lengths not to get angry, we try to watch what we say. We try our best so when our snapshot is taken we will show our best selves. But that’s a lot of pressure and we are not perfect. So we ask ourselves, is that picture set in stone? Can we grow the part of ourselves that lost our temper, or spoke badly about another person? Can we edit the picture that G-d takes of us on Rosh Hashanah?
Modern technology has given us incredible tools. We can edit or airbrush, change the color, get rid of red eye, change backgrounds, you name it. But we cannot totally change the pose; all we can do is enhance what’s already there.
The same is true for these critical days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are the days where we can edit this year’s profile picture . We are given the opportunity to fix things up as best as we can before the final draft is saved. To show ourselves the truest potential of our soul and what that might look like this year. During these days we can fix up that snapshot and make it look a bit better. During these days we put in extra effort. It doesn’t matter where you are holding in your level of observance. Give one more smile, one more minute to your marriage, one more kind word. We all have a long way to go. It is not hypocritical to push yourself and it is not a fake out. G-d sees what’s in our hearts. On Yom Kippur the image gets saved.
These few days leading up to Yom Kippur are serious ones. We have an amazing opportunity in front of us. And when the day finally comes, accept the mental tug-of-war, because your hard work is paying off along the way.
Wishing everyone an easy and meaningful fast. Good luck with the editing. It will hopefully turn out to be a beautiful picture!
City Leader, Portland Kollel