Talmidav Shel Aharon
04-5767 Mitzvah 32
November 7, 2006
Mitzvah 32 – It is a positive commandment to fast on Yom Kippur.
Hafetz Hayyim: As the Torah says: “On the tenth day of the seventh month there shall be a day of atonement … and you shall afflict your souls” (Lev. 23:27). It is necessary to fast from evening to evening and end the fast a bit after the end of the day. If one eats more on the day before Yom Kippur, it is as though he fasts on both the ninth and tenth of Tishrei (the day of Yom Kippur and the day before). It is in effect at all times and it every place for both males and for females.
“Afflicting your soul” on Yom Kippur implies five deprivations. 1. Eating; 2. Drinking; 3. Anointing; 4. Wearing leather soled shoes and 5. Sexual relations.
Because the day is spent seeking atonement for all the sins we may have incurred in the previous year, we do not want to be distracted from our duties. If our very life in the new year is at stake, than we can abstain for a day from sexual relations with our spouse. Leather soled shoes are not about the leather, but about luxury. We do not want to show off our most expensive clothing, but we dress simply, this implies non-leather shoes and plain white clothing. Even the High Priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, would put aside his highly ornamental robes for plain linen ones for Yom Kippur. In a similar vein, we don’t wear makeup or cologne or any other form of decoration that is purely ornamental since we are being judged on who we are, not how we appear. There is no deception in the Heavenly Court. Still, the most recognized deprivation for Yom Kippur is the refraining from eating and drinking for the 25 hours of the fast.
On the one hand, the reason for the fast is that we are trying to imitate the angels in the Heavenly Court who neither eat nor drink. If we can emulate them, we can be assured of being judged favorably in the new year. On the other hand, when our lives are in danger, who would stop to eat or drink? Yom Kippur is a day of great danger, since our lives are in the balance, but Yom Kippur is also a joyful day, since we know that our fast will be successful and we will find forgiveness on this day. Most physicians agree that there should be no problem with a healthy person fasting for one day. Still there are some rules for fasting.
One should prepare for the fast by eliminating those foods that may have side effects if they are suddenly suspended. It is a good idea to stop drinking caffeine a few weeks before the fast so there will not be withdrawal which can cause a headache or worse if you ingest daily a significant dose of caffeine. The day before Yom Kippur, it is important to have a good meal, not a spicy, heavy meal, but a plain meal that is well balanced but not too heavy. A good dose of protein and carbohydrates will help get through the fast but beware, too many carbs may cause you to burn out early. Medications that are taken daily should be taken with this meal and try and drink just plain water (not coffee or tea, certainly, and sugar drinks are also not helpful) If one eats properly before the fast, than it is as if you have fasted two days instead of one. The meal on one day makes the second day possible.
Because of the ban on anointing, some refrain from washing the next morning. You can wash hands and face. The original ban only included visiting a spa (hot springs or hot tub) on Yom Kippur and that the issue is not washing at all. Still some keep the washing to a minimum. One should take morning medications if they are necessary for health. If you are not sure, ask your doctor. Do not skip a day on medications without a doctor’s permission. Pregnant or nursing mothers, the ill and infirm do not fast on Yom Kippur. Children under the age of 13 are not required to fast but it is a good idea that a child older than nine should practice fasting by not eating for half the day. Each year he or she can fast an extra hour until they can go the whole day. One is not allowed to endanger their life by fasting so if you feel ill, one is supposed to eat. We err on the side of caution when it comes to fasting. If one passes out from hunger and says, “I need to eat” and a doctor is present and says, “no you don’t need to eat” we ignore the doctor and feed the patient. If the doctor says the person needs to eat and the person said, “no I don’t” we ignore the person and feed the patient. In times of medical emergency or plague, and the entire community could be endangered by fasting, than the whole community must eat. Saving a life takes precedence over fasting on Yom Kippur.
A post-fast break-the-fast should be like a breakfast with breakfast type foods. Yom Kippur will never fall on a Friday or Sunday so that we don’t have to deal with fasting and the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat.
Since being in places where we could get hungry would be a bad idea, some spend the day at the synagogue so that the usual hunger cues will not be triggered. One does not talk about food on the day as this will only make the fasting harder. One should concentrate on the prayers of Yom Kippur and the hunger will pass. Conservative congregations also support Project Isaiah, where the food we don’t eat is donated to food shelf/pantry projects so that those who don’t eat on a daily basis will have food for themselves. Canned or non-perishable foods are brought to the synagogue and donated to local food programs. This is a great way to make our fast even more meaningful.