It’s important to note that this column was actually written last Saturday afternoon but is still totally relevant. So pretend it’s last Saturday, will you? Please, continue…
I’m absolutely starving right now. Like ravenous. Borderline eat your own forearm off kind of hungry. That’s because it’s been something like 22 hours since I ate last—since my whole family ate last, actually. People are cranky. People are woozy and lightheaded. People are dazed and confused. People are hanging by a thread.
No, we’re not doing the Look Better Naked Cleanse, although I am dying to look better naked and I love a good cleanse. We’re fasting.
Why are we fasting? Because it’s Yom Kippur and we’re Jews, and that’s what Jews do. We do it to clear out the mind and purify the body of everything we want to purge out of ourselves for the New Year. Our New Year. Our Highest Holy Day.
It’s actually an amazing little tradition, this fasting custom; once you can get your mind around the fact that no food or liquid for 24 hours means no food products—not even gum—and no liquid—not even a drop of tap water for 24 looooooong hours. Real test of faith, this one. I highly recommend it, though, if you haven’t tried it.
Alright, hang on a minute, now I feel guilty. I’ve mislead you. I’m not really all that hungry. This year’s fast is really no biggie. We’re eating in like two hours and it went by pretty effortlessly for all of us, to be honest. I was over embellishing because I always feel like I owe you a compelling opener. So sometimes I may slightly inflate an idea to draw you in. Damn, now I feel dirty.
But you’re here now, so you may as well keep reading.
I fast every year for a lot of reasons, the least of which is because I just love depriving myself of the deliciousness of food. Oh food, I do love you. I do it because it’s my peoples’ Day of Atonement. I do it because it’s a tradition. And because I believe in its fundamental purpose.
In case you don’t already know the down and dirty about Yom Kippur, it’s the day we, as Jews, have set aside to “afflict our soul,” and atone for the sins of the past year. It’s wicked dramatic sounding, I know. But for most of us, it usually consists of pretty low-level infractions like talking about people behind their backs or cheating on your timecard or sneaking a small package of Hostess Powdered Donettes when you’re supposed to be off the sauce. For some, though, the stuff they’re dealing with is a little heavier and more life-altering, like trust and fidelity and honestly and kindness. And that’s because some of the stuff we need to look at when we look deep is deep.
So there’s usually a lot of repenting and reflecting and goal setting throughout the day and it runs the full gamut. But if you know me, then you know that all that stuff is right up my alley. And that’s because I love an excuse to reflect and self-examine. That’s because usually it leads to other good things, like goal setting and action and change. Which I love, almost as much as I’d love some brisket and potatoes right about now.
There’s a lot we can learn from fasting, lemme tell you. Not eating or drinking for 24 hours can be a pretty powerful exercise in self-control. There are some who say that fasting facilitates our ability to exercise discipline and endurance. And that’s true, for sure. That if we can master our urge to eat for one day, well, then, maybe we can have better control over our behaviors all year long. Maybe. That’s definitely one reason to do it.
I mean Muslims do it for an entire month for Ramadan. It’s part of Hinduism. It’s part of Buddhism. Even Christ Himself fasted for 40 days once. So there’s obviously something to it.
Plus it’s good to want. And it’s even better to want and not get. It’s a great life lesson.
A good fast is designed to cleanse the mind and the body in one shot. And we all need that, more often than we realize. Going without food offers a certain perspective that we miss when we can just run to the fridge any time we’re hungry. It teaches us empathy for those who can’t. It gives us a glimpse into a world where food is scarce or non-existent. It puts the shoe, even for only a second, on the other foot.
Fasting is an opportunity—it’s a time and a place dedicated to doing nothing but looking back over where you’ve been and looking ahead to where you’re going. And while I believe that we definitely can’t change the past, we can most certainly adjust our future. And an exercise like fasting can be a teeing-off point.
Now I’m way more spiritual than I am religious. That’s a column for another day. But I believe that everyone, on some level, needs to jiggle their connection to their faith every once in a while to make sure that the connection is fully plugged in. Because, over time, the signal can weaken if it’s not adjusted.
And I feel so strongly about that, that I actually look forward to this holiday for that exact reason. I love it because it allows us to hold down the power button and have the screen go black, leaving us totally unencumbered and focused while we look squarely at where we’ve been. And it gives us the opportunity to figure out how we can do better as we move forward. Because I think we need that.
So while I’m not suggesting that you convert (although we’d love to have you and my rabbi would be thrilled), I am suggesting that you find and take advantage of the opportunities you have around you to step back and find a different vantage point. A place that allows you to see things differently. Because it’s those different perspectives that can sometimes lead to the clearest views. And when you can see the forest for the trees, you can focus on the bigger picture of what you’re really looking at. And when you can do that, the sky’s the limit.
And will you looky there, I spent so much time talking to you, that it’s time to eat. Timing really is everything.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR follow her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.