Saturday, September 22, 2007

Self-denial and Fasting

Remember those days when I said that I wouldn't talk about my religion? And yet,

All over the world readers are asking,
How did you break your fast after Yom Kippur, TherapyDoc? Please tell us what you ate. We know how health conscious you are.
Ah, breaking the fast. We just completed a powerful day at the synagogue, a 25 hour fast, no food, no drink. All to atone for our sins and everybody else's (Meaning all Jews are in it together. It's one of our enmeshed things we do, atone as a people).

But it's still a lot of sins, no matter how you cut it. I hear, by the way, that the Catholic priests are sending letters home to members of their congregation to come back to confession. Is this because therapy's not working? Is it working for us ethnics? Ya' have to wonder.

Back to the fast. At first I thought I'd title tonight's post Self-Denial. But then I thought, no, you don't deny "self" when you don't eat or drink. If anything, it's all you've got.

Then I thought, perhaps Self-Deprivation. That made more sense. But I asked FD, just to be sure, and he said, "Well actually, it's about resting from food. We take a break from the physical stuff. Oh, and it's about afflicting the body by not eating/drinking." Those are the reasons the Torah gives us for the commandment to refrain from these things on the 10th day of the 7th month. (Don't ask me to explain our calendar).


So we give it a rest, always a good thing. And at the end of the day, we say, It was worth it. The fast is worth standing all day, praising the Old Mighty, hoping He'll look askance at who we really are. The fast makes us tired, but not so tired. We roll our eyes at one another and point to our watches, feeling pretty bad until it's about to end, then we perk up.

We think about life, and how it hasn't been easy for us. We figure it out that easy isn't what it's all about, probably. Probably people who think that life is about making it easy or just being happy needs to rethink the concept.

We're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it will for everyone. The other shoe drops eventually. It HAS to. It's suspended on a thread up there somewhere, getting heavier and heavier until. . .


But even though life's not about being happy, I still hold by the idea that Happy Is Better and that's what we have to shoot for. That's what I keep telling all of the depressed people in the blogosphere. Let that lighter part of the brain reign as often and intensely as possible.

But it's still a sometime thing, like all emotional states. We aim for it daily, but like that song, that Porgy and Bess song, A Woman is a Sometime Thing, Being Happy is a sometime thing.

Anyway, back to the fast and After the Fast and food. Self-deprivation (you can try to relabel it as rest, but come on, really, we're stretching here) self deprivation is good for the character. It's another one of those, What doesn't kill you makes you stronger things (another TherapyDoc world view under the condition that you get therapy to work out the what didn't kill you).

Self-deprivation is the way to feeling grateful. Take away what you've got, take away your usual physically pleasuring comfort-props like food, water, AND sex, and Wow, Are We Ever Grateful To Merely eat, drink, and you know.

But the fast of Yom Kippur is really about atonement, which you do better when you're resting. The fast helps us atone, become more self-reflective. We get a wider lens by fasting, ironically, we think about bigger pictures.

And we regret regrettable deeds of the past year, and self-adjure for incredible laziness and lack of ambition, for not doing the things we'd promised we'd do at this time the year before. The apologizing to others thing can be brutal. But yes, we have a built in Fifth Step into this religion. (12-steppers know what I'm talking about). If we hurt someone, we have to make amends before Yom Kippur. He doesn't forgive us if we haven't tried to get forgiveness from people who matter.

People matter.

Anyway, at the end of the fast the prayers at the synagogue are so loud, so powerful, so full of emotion and meaning, they probably put Gospel meetings to shame. But ours are only once a year.

And as my son said, "And everyone is actually happy those last few minutes of the holiday, looking forward to food."

Chammie turned to me in the middle of the fast and said, "I could go for nachos."

Not skipping a beat, I added, "With the sourcream, avacado, green onions and tomato, right? Maybe add a pinto bean dip?" (People wanted to shush us, but you could tell they also wanted to tell us what they wanted to eat).

She wasn't so sure about the onions and brought up yellow toffee. Anyway, I have no idea what Cham ate after the fast (see, we're not enmeshed, okay?), but FD made me pancakes and I squirted real whipped cream from a can on the rest of a banana cream pie, and am now feeling no pain.

What was that about self-deprivation again?

Moving right along, a quick update on Tante Fela.

If you recall, last year she sat next to me for the High Holidays, a total stranger, a Holocaust survivor. We made friends, enjoyed being connected. I like meeting new people. And she had prayed, with fervor, Al tashichaini. Don't throw me away. (The root of that word, for those of you who are interested, is tashlich/to throw, the very same as in the ceremony some perform on Rosh Hashana, throwing symbolic sins into a river using bread crumbs or stones).

So this year (yes, she sat next to me, it was arranged) I listened to her and heard her emphasize, Al tashlichaini b'ais ziknah

Which means, Don't throw me away in my old age.

I turned to her and said, You? You're not old. She nodded and said, "I'm old, I'm old."

But both of us had kvetched about our backs hurting, so I said, Maybe not so old. And she smiled.


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