Wishing You a Meaningful Fast
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Erev Yom Kippur 5775
From the Desk of Stephen H. Hoffman
The big fast. It will begin at sundown and the absence of food, water, and caffeine will start to focus the mind fairly quickly. As Kol Nidre sounds, we are full and satisfied. We enter the 27 hours of contemplation optimistically. But, as the hours pass and the effects of the fast penetrate, we really get down to business. Just what is it the Almighty wants from us?
Our Sages have suggested an answer in the reading selected for the morning Haftarah portion. It's from Isaiah as he speaks for the Lord and asks, "Is this the fast I desire of thee?" A fast on one day isn't sufficient if we are not daily thinking of and acting on the needs of the most vulnerable among us. Are we clothing the naked, feeding the hungry?
Here we are metaphorically pleading our own case before the highest court, foregoing food and water, really concentrating, and Isaiah is telling us it's not enough. It's not only about our own sins and following of commandments. It's about caring for humanity as well.
Our Sages go even further as they tell us in the liturgy that Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah (Repentance, Prayer and Righteousness – read: charity) will assure that we are sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year. Here again, we are instructed on the need to be of help to others and not only be concerned for ourselves.
In another section of the service – Yizkor – we lovingly recall the names and memories of cherished family members and friends no longer with us. Even as we pray for their souls, we promise to do tzedakah in their names – care for others.
One of the great distinctions in Jewish life is our teaching to act as a collective. We pray together more effectively than alone. We build congregations together. We build schools together. We care for our most vulnerable community members together.
The Federation is the embodiment of collective power to fulfill the lessons of Yom Kippur and the answer to the question that comes down to us across the ages – "Is this the fast that I desire of thee?"
May you and your loved ones be sealed for a New Year of good health and prosperity. May your fast be easy and meaningful. And, may we collectively pray and act to bring peace and prosperity to our family in Israel and all of humanity in 5775.
Stephen H. Hoffman