James Edward Johnson

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Posts Tagged ‘yom kippur

Reflections on Yom Kippur.

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This year, during the Yom Kippur service, this passage in the morning service Haftarah portion (beginning at Isaiah 58:4) stuck out for me:

Behold, for quarrel and strife you fast, and to strike with a fist of wickedness. Do not fast like this day, to make your voice heard on high.

Will such be the fast I will choose, a day of man’s afflicting his soul? Is it to bend his head like a fishhook and spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord?

Is this not the fast I will choose? To undo the fetters of wickedness, to untie the bands of perverseness, and to let out the oppressed free, and all perverseness you shall eliminate.

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and moaning poor you shall bring home; when you see a naked one, you shall clothe him, and from your flesh you shall not hide.

Then your light shall break forth as the dawn, and your healing shall quickly sprout, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall gather you in.

The point of this passage is part of what is essential to understanding much of the ritual and practice of Judaism.  On Yom Kippur, no one can avoid seeing the self-deprivation that marks its observance.  Fasting for 25 hours with no food or drink or many other pleasures of life is an unpleasant thing to endure.

And yet, this passage makes clear that such observance is not really what God wants from us.  How ironic it is that we read this passage on such a day!  By this point in the service, most of us have had no water or food for 13 hours and we read that such affliction is not what God desires … and yet we keep fasting.

That irony underlies much of what we do as Jews.  It is rarely the case that the fast itself or what we eat or what sorts of attire we wear actually matters to God.  We observe these rules as laws unto themselves, but also as a way of being mindful in what we do.  I know that, for me, when I am fasting or wearing a kippah I am loathe to do anything wrong and strive to do more that is right.

And so, while I honor these mitzvot for their own sake, they are even more important because they help me to honor far more difficult and complicated mitzvot.  Fasting may seem difficult, but it can be done.  Repairing the world seems like an impossible task, but by doing things like fasting, it seems a little more possible and it certainly makes me mindful about my responsibility.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Posted in judaism

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