Last year, the print deadline for the October issue of ANTIGRAVITY coincidentally fell on Rosh Hashanah, which is both the Jewish new year and the beginning of a 10-day period of self-reflection known as the Days of Awe. This year, Hashem (G-d for the goyim among us) has seen fit to continue the divine coincidence between the High Holy Days and our beloved rag by sending us to print on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and the final ordeal of the Days of Awe.
Considered the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur is spent fasting from food and water, and somber self-reflection is mixed with the wailing of a congregation repenting their collective sins in synagogue. Though it hardly sounds appealing from the outside, in last year’s Rosh Hashanah letter from an editor, I made a case for the importance of fasting on Yom Kippur, a process which cleanses the soul of the year’s spiritual residue and allows us to begin anew. I made such a strong case, in fact, that I talked myself, a largely non-observant Jew, into fasting and spending the day in synagogue for the first time in many, many years.
It is a testament to the success of my experiment that I am writing this year’s letter on the first night of the fast, ready to do it all over again. I am thirsty already and daunted by the day to come, exactly as I should be. In the original proscription in the Torah, it is said that “you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire,” (Leviticus 23:27) which referred to the animals that would traditionally have been sacrificed in Biblical times. When the Jewish people left their pastoral and agricultural lives behind with the Temple, new ways of honoring this holiday had to adapt to the diaspora. As I understand them, the prayers we sing today are a way to take the sacrifice upon ourselves, a rare opportunity to embrace the burden of responsibility in a world that so often encourages us to externalize blame.
As Jews have been learning the hard way for many centuries, there is no way to completely control when and how suffering will come for you and your community. But there is some small power to be gained in dedicating sacred time for deprivation and admitting your regrets. When we check our blind spots, we can observe just how often the chain of events leading to human misery begins with our own choices. And even when misfortune comes completely unbidden, the strength gained in intentional deprivation can help you to persevere and see the value in the lessons that accompany times of want. This thought feels particularly significant considering the fact that even as my mouth waters with sacrificial thirst, our entire region faces a potentially catastrophic months-long water shortage. I can tell myself I don’t take our embattled watershed—or the access to clean drinking water that so many are denied—for granted all I want, but there’s nothing like meditating on human folly throughout a protracted period of thirst to drive the point home.
Come sundown, the period in which the Torah asks us to “trouble our souls” will be over. The rabbi will blow the shofar, the curled ram’s horn that serves as a vestige of the ancient days, to mark the long day’s end. Its primal note will echo through the synagogue like it did for all our ancestors, and with pure minds and renewed spirits we will humbly greet a new year. —Holly Devon
illustration by Laura Frizzell
Cover illustration by L. Steve Williams