When fasting would be the opposite of teshuvah
For many in the Jewish community, fasting is an important and difficult spiritual exercise, reminding them of their attachment to the physical, and helping them focus on teshuvah and spiritual growth for 25 hours.
For others, however, fasting presents a different kind of challenge. For individuals who suffer, or are in recovery from, an eating disorder, eating on Yom KippurThe holiest day of the Jewish year and the culmination of a season of self-reflection. Jews fast, abstain from other worldly pleasures, and gather in prayers that last throughout the day. Following Ne'ilah, the final prayers, during which Jews envision the Gates of Repentance closing, the shofar is sounded in one long blast to conclude the holy day. It is customary to begin building one's sukkah as soon as the day ends. is a holy act. Rather than finding “purity” or “spiritual growth” through denying themselves food, the act of eating itself is an act of teshuvah.
This was not something I had considered until I was approached this year by a friend seeking a liturgy that helps her acknowledge the holiness of the act of eating on Yom Kippur, having found little that helped online or in our traditional liturgy. This was developed together with her, in the hope it might also help others. As she said to me, she would like to create something that would “bring a kavannahLit. Intention Refers both to one’s intention when performing a mitzvah or when focusing for prayer. Kavanah also refers to specific readings to help focus one's attention prior to performing an act. (intention) to the act of eating on Yom Kippur, framing it in a positive, constructive way but also recognizing the religious and personal challenges of the day.”
The following ritual is based on various symbolic Jewish ideas, but the starting point is a plate of food set aside as an eruv tavshilin. This plate has a holy purpose in being set aside. The plate/box of food we will create for this ritual will also have a holy purpose, but one which will only be fulfilled if the food is eaten.
A plate or lunch box (perhaps one painted specially for this purpose, i.e., a sederLit. Order. The festive meal conducted on Passover night, in a specific order with specific rituals to symbolize aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. It is conducted following the haggadah, a book for this purpose. The mystics of Sefat also created a seder for Tu B'shvat, the new year of the trees. plate)
A bottle of water
The plate should be prepared prior to the fast, carefully setting aside that which will nurture your soul and body during the Day of Atonement.
In dedicating the plate the following blessings are recited:
Every person is a question which God addresses to humanity; and every person, from their place, with their own special talents and possibilities, must answer for their own sake
Adapted from Leo Baeck
Avinu Malkeinu, on this day of atonement, this day of at-one-ment, I answer with all that I am.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂנִי בְּצַלְמוֹ וְכִּרְצוֹנָה
Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam sh’asani betzalmo vekirtzonah.
Blessed are You, Eternal One, our God, Ruler of Time and Space,
Who has made me in His image and according to Her will.*
Traditional blessing for acts done for the preservation of life:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל פִּקּוּחַ נֶפֶשׁ
Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melekh haolam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al pikuakh nefesh.
Blessed are you Eternal, Sovereign of the universe,
Who makes us holy through Your commandments, and Who commands us to preserve life.
Blessed are You Eternal, who creates each of us whole, and none of us perfect.
Before eating or drinking an item we offer a small thought, or kavanahLit. Intention Refers both to one’s intention when performing a mitzvah or when focusing for prayer. Kavanah also refers to specific readings to help focus one's attention prior to performing an act. כוונה •(intention), and the traditional blessing over that item. Traditionally those who needed to eat on Yom Kippur did so in small amounts, so you may wish to spread the plate through the day, or to eat it as a meal when you are able to.
Tamar • תמר(Date): The Date palm is a symbol of righteousness (Psalm 92).
I acknowledge that the right path is not always the easiest one and seek that which will nourish me in body and soul, giving me the strength to live righteously in Your world.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ
Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam boray peri ha’eytz
Blessed are You, our Living God, Sovereign of the universe, who creates the fruit of the trees
Hummus • חומוס: The product of the earth calls me to embrace food and hunger as natural, and asks me to allow myself to ‘eat and be satisfied’ (Deuteronomy 8:12).
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam boray peri ha’adamah
Blessed are You, our Living God, Sovereign of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth
Mayim • מים (water): God, the source of life, provides me with mayim chayyim • ,מים חייםliving water.
May it be a source of hope, refreshing my body, comforting my soul.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהַכֹּל נִהְיֶה בִּדְבָרוֹֹ
Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam shehakol ni’hiyeh bidvaro
Blessed are You, our Living God, Sovereign of the universe, by whose word all things exist
Lekhemלחם • (bread): While bread at tashlich • תשליךis thrown away as our sins, for me to not eat it would be as a sin. ChallahBraided egg bread eaten on Shabbat and holidays. Reminiscent of bread eaten by Priests in the Temple, of manna in the desert, and sustenance in general. Plural: Hallot • חלה is an offering to God, and so today my humble offering is to eat this bread in my attempt to return to you, God.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam hamotzi lekhem min ha’aretz
Blessed are You, our Living God, Sovereign of the universe, who brings forth food out of the earth
Combining the bread and the hummus: These bricks and mortar provide my New Year with strong foundations, helping me work towards always building a healthier, happier me, as all Jews do on this day, and acknowledging that for me, spiritual emptiness lies in denying my body the nourishment it needs.
When things are difficult during the day, and/or as a closing blessing:
In my Maker’s hand I lay my soul
Both when I sleep
And when I wake,
And with my soul my body too,
My God is close, I shall not fear.
בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי
בְּעֵת אִישָׁן וְאָעִירָה
וְעִם רוּחִי גְוִיָּתִי
אֲדֹנָי לִי וְלֹא אִירָא
Beyado afkid rukhi
Be’et ishan ve’a’irah
Ve’im rukhi geviyati,
Adonay li velo ira
*This brakhahA blessing originally printed in LilithIn the midrash (rabbinic story about the Torah story), Lilith is imagined as Adam's first wife. Because she wanted equality, she wss ultimately banished, and God provided Adam with a more obedient wife. Lilith, according to tradition, lives on as a kind of demon, causing men to have wet dreams and stealing infant boys from their cribs. Today, Lilith has been reclaimed by Jewish feminists as a symbol of women's equality. Vol. 31: no 4, p. 37, written by Rabbi Elliot Kukla
I’m close to tears.
Two past years, I tried to fast and ended up paying it for the following 2-3 months, struggling to eat then.
I knew my mental health (= EDs) wasn’t compatible with fasting but I wanted to try anyway, I felt like failing my duty.
I’m reassured reading this, finally understanding I should not eat just because I can’t fast, but actually as a Teshuvah, because of Pikuakh Nefesh, because I should repair my body and my mind.
Thank you so much!
Thank you for your needed guidance on this day.