Sedra of the week

By Rabbi Naftali Schiff

Across the country, Jews are wishing each other “an easy fast” and “well over the fast”.

It’s as if Yom Kippur is nothing more than an endurance test; perhaps a waterless version of the ice-bucket challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish you all well. But I think that what we get out of Yom Kippur will depend on the way we relate to it.

For so many people, Yom Kippur is a painful experience that we just have to go through, much like an unwanted trip to the dentist where we can feel the pain even before he has so much as laid a finger on us.

I’m sure the majority of people would probably like Yom Kippur to be over by the end of Kol Nidrei, rather than Neilah.

So I would like to make a Kol Nidrei appeal, not one for money, but rather for an attitude change.

This year’s Yom Kippur challenge is to change the way we relate to fasting. Can we live without our bodies for one day a year? Can we minimise the need to focus on our physical needs so that we can get in touch with who we really are without always feeling the need to feed our bodies?

Judaism teaches us that humans are unique, that we are a combination of a physical body and a divine soul.

The body is drawn towards physical comfort and pleasure, whereas the soul drives us towards greatness and meaning. At any given point, it is either the body or the soul that drives our decision-making process.

Yom Kippur is a day when we can rise above our bodies and say to ourselves: “I have a body, but my body is not me.” By choosing not to focus on our physical selves, we can allow our higher selves to come to the fore. We can get in touch with our hopes, dreams, aspirations and memories.

We can evaluate our actions as we see ourselves in a whole new light. This can be a sublime, spiritual experience, if we can just allow ourselves to leave our bodies behind for just one day. That’s a Yom Kippur challenge worth taking. And if we do, I am sure that, rather than counting the minutes, we will be making our minutes count.

Wishing you and yours a meaningful fast! • Rabbi Schiff is executive director of Aish UK