Approaching Yom Kippur


If you are thinking, “Wait! I didn’t get it all done!” bear in mind that while the symbolic “Gates of Repentance” close at sundown on Yom Kippur, the work of teshuvah is really a life-long project. No human being is without flaw, and for the wise, teshuvah is a way of life. 

However you observe the day, use the time wisely. It is truly the holiest day of the Jewish year, and as such, our hearts are especially open now. No matter what you do or do not believe about God, the fact is that for thousands of years, Jews have taken this day to reflect and plan a better path for themselves. It’s a day for taking responsibility and telling the truth to ourselves.

“Telling the truth” is different from “beating yourself up.” If you find that you are tipping over into unmanageable guilt or mental anguish, take a break, talk to someone, be kind. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to another human being. Listen to your heart!

As for fasting, I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about both the mitzvah of fasting and the mitzvah of taking care of a sick body. Resist any urge to make a competition or a display out of the fast. It is, ultimately a means to an end, not an end in itself. Whether we fast or not, I suggest we all ponder the teaching on fasting in Isaiah 58:2-9 :

Day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
    and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”

I wish you a fruitful Day of Atonement, full of insight!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

9 thoughts on “Approaching Yom Kippur”

  1. Thanks for the Isaiah post. As a fellow convert, my usual go-to biblical quote about ostentatious fasting and prayer is from the New Testament. Even more awkwardly, it uses “hypocrite” and Pharisees interchangeably… and as I understand it, the Pharisees were likely the spiritual forefathers of the first “rabbis” who radically changed/saved Judaism after the destruction of the Temple, ie the writers of the Talmud. So I’m really glad to have another verse, in the Jewish Bible, that I can quote. 🙂


  2. As a born Jewess, I have never been able to fast due to health reasons. My blessed mother and kind sister always did not fast with me (until I was an adult) to help me cope and not feel an outsider. And thankfully we had a kindly Orthodox Rabbi who would, during his sermon, always extend a blessing upon us, who were not fasting for health reasons, for a better year…this an almost unheard of comment. Still, in practice, I do my best to eat light unless I feel symptoms creep up that cry out for “food.”

    I wish you all an easy fast and a blessed Yom Kippur. “Gut Yomtov!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just curious: the footnote in the passage from Isaiah links to this reference:
      “New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.”


  3. Wishing you and your dear ones a new year filled with loving kindness and wisdom, balance, health and peace. Ruth, you have been my rabbi this year and that has made this year a better one for me. Thank you for teaching, sharing, caring and being the amazing woman and rabbi that you are. May you have a meaningful fast! L’shah Tova and Gmar Tov.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just curious: the footnote in the passage from Isaiah links to this reference:
    “New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.”


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