Archive for Saturday, September 7, 2013

Faith Forum: How are you planning to spend Yom Kippur?

September 7, 2013


Observing my body from my soul

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th St.:

I will be celebrating the Jewish Day of Atonement by ... fasting!

Fasting is no fun. By midmorning, I begin to think back to the pre-fast meal and all I see is a menu in front of my eyes. At times I wonder, “I understand that fasting on Yom Kippur is supposed to make me focus on my soul, but how can I become more spiritual with a growling stomach?”

Here’s a meditation I will try this Yom Kippur:

Hey! I am a mature and reasonable human being, who usually functions pretty well. But today, just because I missed my morning coffee and toast, I can’t think straight! And what’s even more ridiculous is that in a couple of hours, it will only take a few mouthfuls of cake to make me forget the whole ordeal! Is a plate of food all that I amount to?

Well, if my body is all there is, then yes, I am what I eat, and no more. But in truth, our body is not all there is to you and me. We are much more than the sum of carbohydrates and proteins. I am not just a body. I am a soul. The body is merely a frail, needy and temporary home for the soul, our true identity.

We take our body and its needs very seriously. We can live our lives pursuing our body’s cravings and urges, forgetting that there is more to life than our creature comforts. Fasting is a powerful reminder of the fragility and dependence of the body. The hungrier I get, the more I realize how delicate and unsubstantial the body really is. There must be more to my life than breakfast.

So on Yom Kippur this year, I will try to become an observer of the body from the point of view of my soul. I will watch my body hunger, pity it for its weakness and frailty, and resolve that in the year to come, I will not make my body and its temporal pleasures the be-all-and-end-all of my life. Rather, I will care for my body so it can serve as a vehicle of goodness, to achieve the mission that my soul was sent to this world to fulfill.

— Send email to Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel at

In synagogue, exhausted, exhilarated

Rabbi Moti Rieber, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland Drive:

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, the day when Jews throughout the world do a thorough self-examination and strive to make positive personal change in their lives and relationships — with their fellow human beings and with God — in the year to come.

Most of the 25-hour fast day is spent in synagogue. The evening service begins with the haunting cantorial piece “Kol Nidray,” in which we ask to be forgiven for the promises we made to God over the past year that we weren’t able to keep. During the day we recite a series of penitential prayers that are mostly written in the first person plural: “We were impure in our speech,” “we gossiped,” etc. This reminds us that the Jewish community is not just a collection of individuals, but is a people, with a deep connection and even a responsibility for and to one another.

In the afternoon we read the book of Jonah, who, despite his reluctance, is just about the only successful prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures. He told the people of Ninevah to repent — and they did!

And the day concludes with Neilah (nee-LAH), with its imagery of “the closing of the gates.” The mood is a mixture of confidence that our prayers are going to be answered, and a rush to get in the last pleas in before the sun sets.

Even though contemporary Jews might be uncomfortable with the concepts of sin and atonement, and might not “really believe” that God is making the decision on our case at that very moment, everyone who goes through this day feels a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. We are forgiven. And we can go into the new year with a clean slate, and a determination to act more positively in our homes, and in the world.

— Send email to Moti Rieber at


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