With Rabbi Jonny ROODYN.
This Shabbat we take a break from the weekly Torah portion in deference to the “Sabbath of all Sabbaths” – Yom Kippur.
This is an intense day. Refraining from food and drink is not most people’s cup of tea. Indeed, the long hours spent in the synagogue can be even dryer than our mouths.
Paying lip service and observing out of rote do not generally make for a positive experience, and so many breathe a sigh of relief when the shofar is blown and it’s all over for another year.
The sages of the Talmud were cognisant of these issues and chose an appropriate passage from Isaiah for the morning Haftora reading, to help us focus on the inner meaning of the day. “Can such be the fast that I choose, a day when man merely afflicts himself”, the prophet Isaiah castigates those who go through the motions with a pompous sense of self-righteousness and at the same time “fast with grievance and strife”. He lambasts those who “pretend to seek Me every day” as they “do not fast as befits the day.”
Yom Kippur is the one day of the year when we seek to rise above our bodies and aim to behave like angels. By refraining from physical needs we are able to get in touch with our souls, and see our actions – past and future – in this light. It can often take this “shock tactic” to wake us up, to bring us back to our senses and help us realise that our indiscretions of the last year have come precisely because we prioritised our bodies over our soul.
So Yom Kippur provides us with an opportunity to redress that balance. What kind of fast does “befit the day”? The Haftora continues: “If you remove from your midst perversion, finger pointing, and evil speech.” The fast that Isaiah is talking about is not just a fast of prayer and confession; it is one that is accompanied by resolve and action. It is a fast that enables us to look deeply inside ourselves, to be bold enough to admit where we have been remiss, and to develop a concrete resolve to better ourselves and our society. It’s not about counting the minutes until the end of the fast. Rather it’s about making those minutes count.
• Rabbi Jonny Roodyn works for Aish UK. Follow him on Twitter @rjroodyn