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Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but it's right after Yom Kippur, so I am still trying to be honest with myself.

As I mentioned, I had to break my fast for Tisha b'Av early this year.  That made me nervous for fasting on Yom Kippur.  I started planning how best to approach the issue.  I measured how much water I could drink and still stay just under the limit of the what the Torah would consider breaking my fast.  I looked up precisely when sundown was to work out the absolute earliest I could make havdala and eat.  I was prepared to exercise every leniency in fasting so that I could daven where I usually do (a one mile walk... three times there and back; Kol Nidrei, Shacharis, N'ila), say my normally long shmone esrei on Yom Kippur, and stand all day in emulation of the angels to whose level we ascend on this most awesome day.

Then... in the midst of all that planning, I remembered the lesson me first grade teacher gave me in setting priorities... (I did a slap dash job on my -- IMHO boring and unimportant -- seat work so that I could get to the -- IMHO cool and quite relevant -- games.  Mrs. Holtz gave my seat work the grade it deserved and removed my name from the game board that day.  I put my head down on my desk and cried.)  So I started thinking and thinking, but search my memory as I could, I could not recall a single word in the Torah or Chazal about the obligation to walk to a particular shul, nor to daven a particularly long shmone esrei, nor even to stand all day in emulation of the angels to whose level we ascend on this most awesome day.  They are all very much praised as extra credit.  But you have dodo the main thing before you can enhance it.  What I did know, of course, is something that every Jew -- and even most non-Jews -- know; namely, that you are supposed to fast on Yom Kippur.

So I did not daven at my usual shul (I found a very accommodating shul three blocks away), and I didn't daven an exceptionally long shmone esrei (though with keen intention and awareness, but rather more "efficiently" than I normally daven on this most auspicious day), and I did not stand any more than was absolutely required.  (In fact, a few times during N'ila I thought I was doing pretty well, so maybe I could stand then entire hour and a half at then end of the fast... then I thought, "No, you are doing so well because you are not standing, you fool."  I don't like being called a fool (especially by myself), and so I sat myself down.

The next day I saw a friend of mine who is enduring some difficult treatments.  I asked him how his Yom Kippur went, and he replied, "Baruch HaShem!  I didn't have to rely on any leniencies!"  I thought to myself, "Baruch HaShem, I didn't either."

So what was my big accomplishment on Yom Kippur?  I fought the most fearsome enemy -- myself -- and succeeded in not eating in Yom Kippur.


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