Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) comes up starting tomorrow (Wednesday) evening. It is a 24 – 25 hour period of fasting and prayer, punctuated by some sleep in between. Yet in some ways it is my favorite of the Jewish holidays.
On Yom Kippur we pray, over and over again, asking forgiveness for all of our sins of the previous year. We name these sins, most often in acrostic (alphabetical) prayers. And we continually remind ourselves (and God) that we are less than nothing, but if there happened to be a little chance to take note of us, that would be great.
We don’t eat, which you might think would interfere with prayer, but I tend to find enahnces prayer. One of the basic problems with prayer is that we get in our own way. Our beliefs, and intellectual understanding of ourselves, makes it difficult to pray to God as though God were listening and cares. Yet it is this ability to pray as though God cares which makes prayer truly effective for the person praying. On Yom Kippur, long about the 23rd hour of the fast, our blood sugar plummeting, we cease to edit our beliefs quite so hard. We begin to be able to pray like we really mean it, because we feel it.
There are many religious traditions that use hallucinigens to stimulate spiritual experiences. Judaism uses fasting in much the same way. For me, some years, the prayers I pray in those last hours of Yom Kippur are the truest prays I utter all year. Other years, I’m just aware of how much my feet hurt and how hungry I am.
As Yom Kippur comes upon us, may it be a meaningful experience, and a useful fast.
Gmar Hatimah Tova (May you be sealed for a good year).