Quick and Fast – GOLD NOTES #8

by Matthew J. (Matt) Goldberg


Tuesday, September 25, 2012


For someone who has been celebrating…or should I say observing…Yom Kippur for so long, I’m not sure that I’ve ever gotten good at it. Should I rephrase that?

I know that Yom Kippur—the Jewish Day of Atonement for those who are not familiar—is the most solemn and contemplative of days. And for many of us, this is the one day (or 25-hour period) of the year where we fast. It is not designed as an endurance contest, even if it feels like it for those who are fortunate enough to never be too far away from food and drink for the other 364.25 days of the year. As I prepare to observe it this evening, it seems that I’ve only done it the right away a few times. I say this with some degree of sadness, as I’ve now had more than 40 years of practice. (Wow. Has it really been that long? This is all a bit sobering.)

So, what’s not to like about prayer, repentance, self-improvement, forgiveness and fasting? Well, the last one really stands out, even if the other components of this holiest of days can also be somewhat difficult to be good at. And yes, after all these years, I have not found the secret to being the best that I can be in all respects: as a husband, father, brother, son, neighbor, teacher, thinker, writer and member of the community. So many years into my journey, and so many of these secrets are still being kept from me. Sometimes, I wonder if—I, being no stranger to doing things the hard way—the answers are so obvious that knowing this only compounds the difficulty of doing the right things. Yes, many are the times that I get discouraged by the deep gap between the person I want to be and the life I feel that I should be leading and the realities of both.

But perhaps, I have acquired just a little wisdom along the way—even as it relates to Yom Kippur. At first, it was all about fasting, (and truth be told, I still find that a strange word to denote voluntarily going without food) and trying to get through those 24-plus hours without food or drink. Okay, it still is in many respects, but the actual fasting has probably gotten a little easier over the years, even if my appetite has not decreased much on those other 364 days.

To the best of my recollection, my first Yom Kippur fast was at age 11. It was a big deal to me at the time, and I was proud of myself for doing so two years before I was required to. I probably shouldn’t have been so proud, but it was a graduation of sorts from the days where I attended the kiddie services and was given milk and cookies for my troubles. As the youngest of three boys, my two older brothers had already started to fast, and I can’t swear that they didn’t give me the occasional unkind look when I came home after my milk-and-cookie-embellished service and found a little snack in our well-stocked kitchen. Even my Dad, almost invariably the soul of kindness and generosity, asked me not to enjoy my snacks so much, or so obviously.

But, I moved on to the big boy world of fasting, even if I’m not sure I really “got” what it was all about. Was it just about how long I could go without eating and how much I could eat before and after those 25 hours? Was it about forcing myself to be solemn and about feeling some undefined guilt?

I would love to say that I’ve always felt that this holiday is about so much more, and not simply about all the things that we have to do without. Without trying to point an accusatory finger at any of my childhood teachers, that’s how it was taught to me, or maybe, that’s how I received the message. I’ve rarely regarded Yom Kippur as a unique combination of contemplation and celebration. The latter may be too strong of a word, but in a sense, the 10 Days of Awe from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are a wonderful opportunity to truly return to our better selves via the process of repentance, prayer, reflection and forgiveness.

As for forgiveness, I’ve long felt this to be one of the most powerful and elusive concepts to get a grasp on. In my case, I think that I’m generally more forgiving of others than I am ready, willing and able to forgive myself. After all these years, I’ve gotten a little better at self-forgiveness. Now, if I only can forgive myself for being so lousy at it for all those years…

With all this said, I think that Yom Kippur, like almost everything else, is about finding that often difficult balance—and in this case, that line between too much self-flagellation and too much self-glorification. To me, it’s all about self-reflection for the purpose of being a little less selfish in how we approach our lives. If fasting helps to get us in the right frame of mind for such self-improvement—in all the ways that really should matter—then this holiday is truly something to celebrate.

Being good at Yom Kippur (beyond the logistics of fasting) is, like so many other things in life, still a work in progress for me. After these 40 years in my own wilderness, I still am prone to ask questions such as, “Does knowing that we can’t eat or drink help us concentrate more, or less, on prayer and self-reflection?” My answer is usually: Yes. More or less. Oh well, I never pretended to have all the answers.

In closing, I hope that you find the questions and answers that are most important for you, and that your own fast—if you are doing so—is relatively easy and linked to other concepts of great meaning.

And may it be a wonderful day in a New Year of good health, sweetness and joy!

GOLD NOTES is a weekly feature that is, well, about something, if not quite everything, or nothing. To leave a comment, please reply below or send Matt an e-mail.

For information about Matt’s books, sports columns, speaking events and requests for appearances and custom writing, please visit www.tipofthegoldberg.com, or contact him via email. Please also like his new Facebook Fan Page (“to like, to like, l’chayim”), which can be found here.

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Matthew J. Goldberg About the Author: An author, speaker and custom writer from Cherry Hill, NJ, Matt loves to entertain people through his writing and public speaking. Laughs, Smiles and just enough Wisdom reach his audience through the magic of his written and spoken words. More about Matthew

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  1. Deena says:

    Matt, I totally agree that it’s hard to figure out how to “do” Yom Kippur right. It’s such a fine balance of forgiving and repentance and wishing and doing all of that while hungry and thirsty. Maybe it’s good we get to practice it every year…

    • Thanks for the read and comment, Deena…it’s wonderful to hear from other writers. As to your last point – “Maybe it’s good we get to practice it every year…”

      …and only once per year?

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