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Parshas Haazinu - Yom Kippur (5770)

Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement and Smoked Fish

break⋅fast [pronounced: brek-fuh st or brake-fast]

1. the first meal of the day; morning meal: A hearty breakfast was served at 7 a.m.

2. a tradition among many North American Jews to mark the end of the long Yom Kippur fast day with a huge, festive meal consisting of assorted bagels, cream cheese, smoked fish, whitefish, herring, and other “Jewish-style” delicacies, followed by lavish desserts and coffee: “Sophie, I know that we have another eight hours left to go until the fast is over, but I simply can’t wait to go to Rose Horowitz’s house tonight for break-fast. They say her chocolate cheesecake is to die for.”


Now I‘m not sure exactly where and how the tradition of “break-fast” originated, and I am certainly not against family and friends getting together after a long and difficult day of fasting to eat some good (and healthy?) food, but I do believe this break-fast thing has gone a bit too far.

First of all, there are some Jews who are so eager to observe this mitzvah that they start the break-fast before the fast officially ends! (One should ideally wait at least 45-50 minutes after sunset on Yom Kippur night before eating or doing any work or food preparation.) Secondly, for many Jews the break-fast has almost become the focal point of the entire Yom Kippur service – during the long and seemingly endless prayers we often let our minds wander and we start to dream about smoked fish on a cracker with a little single malt - and the joy that we sometimes feel at the break-fast meal is the fact that Yom Kippur is finally over!

Truth be told, the Halachah (Jewish Law) does consider the night following Yom Kippur to be a semi-holiday. The Rem”a, in his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), writes: “We eat and are joyous on the night after Yom Kippur, since it is a kind of Yom Tov (holiday)." This is based on the Midrash, which tells us, "A Heavenly Voice goes forth on the night after Yom Kippur and says to Man, `Go and eat your bread joyously, for G-d has accepted your deeds.' "

However, the main source of the joy that we are supposed to feel after the fast is not the amazing spread of appetizers that our eyes behold or the fact that we put that fast behind us but rather the joy of knowing that G-d has (hopefully) accepted our Teshuvah (repentance) and that we are starting out the new year with a clean slate.

Maybe the reason why we don’t always feel this joy of cleansing after Yom Kippur is because we fail to appreciate what Yom Kippur truly is. Whereas most Jews see it as a day of food deprivation, guilt and endless praying, the Talmud sees Yom Kippur in an entirely different light. In Tractate Taanis 26b we are taught: “Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no happier holidays in Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.” The Talmud explains that Yom Kippur is considered the most joyous holiday because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon, and it commemorates the giving of the Second Tablets of the Law [which were given on that day].

Can you imagine the joy that our ancestors must have felt on that very first Yom Kippur in history when they saw Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets and they realize that G-d had totally forgiven them for the sin of the Golden Calf?!

On each and every Yom Kippur we get to experience that very same joy – the joy of being able to cleanse ourselves of all the baggage and shmutz that we picked up throughout the year and starting the new year all fresh and clean. What a gift Yom Kippur is!!

Let’s commit this year to using Yom Kippur properly – not just as an excuse for having a really great meal after it’s over – and spend some serious time during the fast day to think about our actions of the past year and what we can do to improve ourselves and change for the better. This way we can feel secure that G-d will accept our repentance, and later that night, when we are chomping on bagels and lox at the break-fast, we will be able to feel the true joy of knowing that our slate is clean and we are sin-free.

May we all merit doing a proper Teshuvah this Yom Kippur and be sealed in the Book of Life.



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