Friday, October 10, 2008

The slow process of fasting

Well, another year on the Jewish calendar has started and after the major hurdle of fasting for Yom Kippur, I am refreshed and ready for the upcoming Succot holiday. It is an acknowledged fact that ten days into the beginning of a new year (this year is 5769) the Day of Atonement looms large. After gorging ourselves on bushels of apples slathered in honey for a sweet year, we are admonished to stop eating and drinking for this one holy day. We also cannot bathe, wear leather soled shoes, or have sexual relations throughout the entire 10 Days of Awe (or 10 Days of Penitence) that make up the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I know. A lot of you are wondering what leather soles on shoe bottoms have to do with anything in particular. That's really an easy one to answer. Remember the Golden Calf? Yes, the one Moses's older brother Aaron forged out of gold while Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Well, the sages say that to wear leather on our feet would remind Jews of how they strayed from the Almighty at a time when they should have been blindly obedient. So, no leather is the watchword, although technically just the shoe bottoms is all required. The rest of the laws of Shabbat (no writing, making fire, doing work, etc.) are also observed, but the major difference is that on the Sabbath we are required to eat. Yes, it's in the fine print of observance for the day, although some vegetarians are shocked to find that the specific reference is to eat meat. That's because eating meat at a meal is seen as a special event and the sages (there they are again) decided that the Sabbath deserved a special meal to set it apart from the regular week when we may or may not decide to eat meat. Yom Kippur is a major fast day. It begins at sundown and ends sundown plus about a half hour after sunset the following day. We cannot eat or drink anything. With the exception of necessary medications, we cannot pass anything between our lips except for prayer and greetings to friends and family at the synagogue or temple. The upshot of the Day of Atonement, though, is to focus less on ourselves, but to strengthen the relationship between ourselves and the Almighty by acknowledging the sins we have perpetrated against others or have occurred beyond our control over the past year. I must admit it is a good way to start the year off right with a clean slate. Those sages (again with the sages) instruct us that our names are inscribed in the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah, but that our fate is sealed on Yom Kippur. Who will live, who will die, who will gain wealth, who will be poor, etc. is all inside that book. With the current state of the stock market and the worldwide financial crisis, I wish I could get a sneak peek into that book to recoup some of my recent "corrections" in the market. Then again, maybe not. Only joking, Lord.

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