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Fasting and Feasting

Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening and with it the day long fast that is the hallmark of this holy day. To be honest, I don’t like fasting. It seems so un-Jewish. I prefer eating.

On Yom Kippur, we beat our chests and proclaim our mistakes. We deny ourselves the pleasures of this world. The goal is that we become closer to God and on this day, a little more like angels.

I prefer dancing.

The ancient rabbis appear to agree. The Talmud declares: “One who eats and drinks on the ninth of Tishrei (Erev Yom Kippur), the Torah considers it as if one fasted on the ninth and tenth of Tishrei.” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 81b)

The evening’s festive meal is just as important as the fast. This is because the hallmark of a Jewish life is celebration. It is one punctuated by dancing and singing. A seudat mitzvah—feast—is the quintessential Jewish act. This is not to suggest that we should ignore the fast. It helps to elevate our souls. It forces us to focus on our prayers—although I must confess, I sometimes find myself daydreaming about noodle kugle, most especially during the afternoon’s closing hours.

Do I require a day of denial and asceticism, of self-flagellation and enumerating my mistakes to help me appreciate the other 364 days? Perhaps. Still I would prefer 365 of singing and dancing. As much as I love seeing our sanctuary packed for this most holy of days, I would prefer to see us pack our lives with more joy and celebration. This is why Shabbat dinners are the best expression of what it means to be a Jew, and to lead a meaningful Jewish life.

We need to rejoice more. We need to say thank you more. We need to look up to the heavens and proclaim—more often than we most certainly do now, “Thank You for creating me. Thank You for fashioning this beautiful, and mysterious, world.” If the fast helps us to achieve this goal then it is worth it.

Rabbi Israel Salanter, the founder of the mussar school of Jewish ethics, said: “What a wise person can accomplish by eating and drinking on Erev Yom Kippur, a fool cannot achieve fasting on Yom Kippur.”

The fast is not the goal. Never mistake means with ends.

The fast, and all those hours of praying, are means to lift our spirits. They are tools to add more joy to our lives.

It is much more about the hora than the fast.