Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is one of the most significant and solemn holidays in the Jewish calendar. Central to the observance of Yom Kippur is the practice of fasting, where Jewish individuals abstain from food and drink for a 24-hour period. In this blog, we will explore the sources of the mitzvah (commandment) to fast on Yom Kippur, delve into the restrictions associated with this holy day, and understand how fasting serves as a means to connect with spirituality.
The mitzvah of fasting on Yom Kippur finds its foundation in the Torah, specifically in Leviticus 23:27: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall afflict yourselves.” The phrase “afflict yourselves” refers to fasting and denying oneself certain physical pleasures during this sacred day.
In addition to this Torah commandment, fasting on Yom Kippur is also mentioned in the Book of Numbers (29:7) and is reinforced through the teachings of the Prophets and Rabbinic literature.
Fasting on Yom Kippur serves as a profound spiritual practice, allowing individuals to transcend the physical realm and focus on matters of the soul. By abstaining from food and drink, one embraces a state of humility and self-discipline, shifting the focus from bodily needs to spiritual introspection and connection with God. There is no limitation to how one should think of it, but there are a number of frequently stated benefits.
- Detachment from Materialism: Fasting on Yom Kippur enables individuals to detach themselves from the materialistic aspects of daily life. By temporarily renouncing physical nourishment, individuals are reminded that their spiritual needs take precedence over worldly desires. This detachment from materialism allows for a deeper examination of one’s actions and encourages a reevaluation of priorities.
- Self-Reflection and Repentance: Yom Kippur is a time for introspection, self-evaluation, and repentance. Fasting intensifies this process by humbling individuals and enabling them to confront their shortcomings and seek forgiveness. The physical affliction of fasting serves as a reminder of the need for spiritual purification and renewal, and the universal dependence on God.
- Unity and Empathy: Through fasting, individuals empathize with those who suffer from hunger and deprivation. It fosters compassion and encourages acts of kindness and charity towards others. On Yom Kippur, no one is higher or lower than anyone else. This shared experience of fasting also strengthens the sense of communal unity among Jewish people worldwide, as they collectively engage in this profound act of spiritual devotion.
Other Restrictions on Yom Kippur:
In addition to fasting, Yom Kippur is characterized by a set of additional restrictions known as “Five Afflictions” or “Five Prohibitions.” These include abstaining from washing or bathing, applying lotions or perfumes, wearing leather shoes, engaging in marital relations, and refraining from engaging in mundane activities, such as working or engaging in physical pleasures.
These restrictions, like fasting, help individuals redirect their focus from the physical to the spiritual realm. By letting go of everyday comforts and activities, one creates a space for intense introspection and connection with the divine.
Fasting on Yom Kippur, as commanded in the Torah and reinforced by Jewish tradition, is not merely an affliction but a powerful spiritual practice. Through fasting, individuals detach themselves from the physical realm, enabling deeper self-reflection, repentance, empathy, and a heightened connection with the divine. The additional restrictions of Yom Kippur further support this endeavor by redirecting one’s attention away from mundane matters. As Jewish individuals embrace these practices, they embark on a transformative journey, seeking forgiveness, inner growth, and a renewed commitment to living a spiritually meaningful life.