Fasting on Yom Kippur feeds the soul

Whoever says that wearing white after Labor Day is a fashion faux pas must not be Jewish.

During the fall holiday season, white clothing is actually encouraged at Yom Kippur services because it symbolizes purity. Notice the rabbi’s special white robe. Also acceptable on the holiest day of the year are sneakers and rubber flip-flops! Never again will I balk at Sari’s white sandals or force Jack to squeeze into leather loafers that are two sizes too small.

The reason that children and adults wear non-leather shoes on Yom Kippur, by the way, is because the synthetic variety makes us feel more humble. After all, the Day of Atonement is all about feeling humble. During this 24-hour fasting period, we are to abstain from food, drink, bathing, deodorant, perfume, leather shoes, and sex. That’s because on Yom Kippur we relinquish the comforts and pleasures of the flesh. For many women, giving up bread for a day is a major sacrifice.

The tradition of fasting on Yom Kippur is not designed as a punishment but as a physical expression of cleansing and gives us an entire day to focus on how we relate to other people, to the world, to our self, and to God. To cram this practice of self evaluation and atonement into one day is impossible, which is why we are supposed to use the past 10 days to practice the three T’s: tefillah (prayer), teshuvah (repentance), and tzedakah (justice and charity). By doing our homework — and no cheating — the Jewish lore tells us that we will be “written and sealed” for a good year in a celestial Book of Life.

Like any good parent, God wants us to set goals and strive to be our very best. God gives us Yom Kippur so that we can reach our highest potential, and, in the process, improve our world (tikkun olam). The best way for parents to teach these moral concepts to our children is by being good role models. If we show tolerance, patience, ethical concern, and forgiveness throughout the year, our children are more likely to develop these character traits, or middot.

In my family, communication is sometimes easier to initiate through written words rather than verbal expression. When my children were younger, they solved more than one conflict by slipping notes to each other (and me) underneath a closed bedroom door. Usually somebody’s tears turned into laughter.

During the month of Elul, we tried a similar game of communication called “family mailbox,” in which we write each other personal messages, no postage necessary. Our family mailbox is made of a desktop letter holder (you can use any kind of container or toy mailbox). The idea is to stop and think about what we might have said or done to hurt someone’s feelings, and then apologize with the intention of making the situation better next time. I never know what’s going to be in the mail. The other day I received an anonymous letter that simply read, “I love you!” I wrote back, “Return to sender.”

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is hanging leaves and apples from her sukkah. Feel free to send any comments to: [email protected] or visit her Web site at