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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Preparing for Yom Kippur: Some Handy Hints

In preparation for Yom Kippur, here are some handy hints that might make the day more meaningful to you:

1) If you're fasting, start minimising your food now. Many people think that the best way to fast is to fill themselves with a ridiculously large meal just before it starts. That is, in fact, probably the worst way to fast. When you stuff yourself silly, you expand your stomach lining and then you'll feel really hungry the next day. So, I always try to minimise my food intake in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Also, try to avoid salty food because that will make you thirsty. This year, Yom Kippur is quite late in the year so the fast comes in and goes out earlier. That's a good thing. Once you wake up in the morning, you really don't have long left in the fast. That said, it's always better mentally to count the number of hours you have already fasted and not to think about the number of hours left. Mentally, we are lifted by our success and counting down feels much longer.

2) If you're not fasting, there is a special prayer that can be recited. People who are ill, pregnant or elderly should not force themselves to fast (Yoma 82b-83a). Pikuach nefesh, the preservation of life, is essential. Yes, Torah says (Lev. 16:29-31, Num. 29:7) that on Yom Kippur we should "afflict our souls" and yes, the Rabbis very clearly define how to afflict our souls, but that affliction should not lead to harm. The idea of fasting is to elevate us beyond our physical selves so that we can be more like angels (who don't eat). It's not angelic if you're writhing in pain, or dizzy, or faint. Religion should be lived.

3) The traditional interpretation of "afflict" covers five things. The Mishnah (Yoma 8:1) says that it means (i) no eating or drinking (ii) no bathing (iii) no anointing, (iv) no leather shoes (v) no sexual intercourse (especially not in the synagogue, please!!!). The Talmud (Yoma 74b) suggests that this means abstention and not torture, and suggests this means through hunger. In fact, there's something very important about not anointing as well - people who are fasting may not have taken anti-allergy medication and if they are allergic to your perfume or deodorant, they could become very ill. 

4) There is a lot of liturgy on Yom Kippur. The idea of a minyan is that at least one person is saying the prayers at the right time. You're meant to dip in and out mentally. Our machzor has three kinds of pages - white, grey and blue. White pages are mainly where the prayer leader will be, the traditional prayers. Gray pages are creative translations. Blue pages are related study passages. If a prayer on a white page isn't moving you, look at a grey or blue page and see if that's powerful.

5) Many people become despondent over Yom Kippur because they feel that they're apologising for things that they know they're just going to repeat next year. Instead of trying to change your entire personality, just focus on one thing. Don't promise to never do it again but spend the day thinking of ways you might minimise seeing that negative character trait. If you get angry often, for example, work out what triggers that and think up mechanisms that will minimise those triggers.

I hope that these help make your Yom Kippur moving.