In a few hours, the sun will go down in New Orleans, and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar will begin. It is a day of both challenge and opportunity. Opportunity, because this is the day that allows us greater access to G‑d, and to the core of our being, than any other day of the year. And, challenge, because, unlike other Jewish holidays that are observed by eating, this one is observed by fasting.
Here are three reasons that you should fast on Yom Kippur.
  • Over the years, Jews have really gone through a lot in order to remain faithful to their Judaism. Our ancestors were expelled, robbed, beaten and killed because they stubbornly refused to give up the legacy of Jewish tradition. On Yom Kippur, G‑d asks us to honor that legacy by making a small sacrifice of our own. Yes, 25 hours (the fast begins at 6:37 Sunday evening, and ends at 7:29 Monday. Times are for New Orleans and for 2023 only) without food or drink is tough, but it is a small thing compared to the sacrifice of our predecessors, the hundreds of generations of Jewish men, women and children who knew that Judaism was something worth sacrificing for. By fasting on Yom Kippur, we get to measure ourselves against our ancestors, and ask ourselves whether we are made of that same tough stuff that allowed Judaism to survive for thousands of years.
  • Our sages teach us that the very essence of the day of Yom Kippur gains us atonement from G‑d for all sins that we may have committed over the course of the year. But, we are told, it only has this effect for people that honor Yom Kippur by observing it as a fast day. I don't know about you, but I know how my year has gone, and a day long fast is a small price to pay for a clean slate before G‑d.
  • Perhaps the most important thing about fasting is that it gives us the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves. The human being consists of a body and a soul. These two parts of our being have very different needs. The body pursues the physical gratification and the soul pursues the higher things in life - connection with G‑d, purpose, and meaningful life. Unfortunately, human nature dictates that the soul is slave to the body. When the body's needs are not attended to, it is extremely difficult to focus or concentrate on anything else. The soul's needs are forced to take second place, fitting themselves in after and around the body's struggle for food, drink and other forms of physical gratification.
    On Yom Kippur, the soul is set free of those bonds. G‑d commands us not to provide the body with any of its needs, and as a result, we are free to focus exclusively on the needs of the soul. With proper perspective, one can feel the tremendous liberation that the fast of Yom Kippur provides. It enables us to spend an entire day, catering to the soul, alone!
So, on this day, instead of spending it groaning and moaning about fasting, let's embrace the fast as a spiritual opportunity for sacrifice, for atonement and for spiritual growth. Take advantage of the opportunity that the fast of Yom Kippur affords.