The Pledge

September 25, 2012 - 5:00 am

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work— whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you.” — Leviticus 16:29

Part of Yom Kippur observance includes the following restrictions: We don’t eat or drink, wash our bodies, beautify ourselves with creams and cosmetics, engage in marital relations, or wear leather shoes. The Bible refers to these observances when it says “You must deny yourselves.” Why is deprivation a crucial component of Yom Kippur?

There is a story about a rabbi who wanted to raise money for the needy. He knocked on the door of a wealthy donor, and when the man answered, the rabbi asked him to step outside. In spite of the cold, the man obliged. The rabbi started talking and he would not stop. The donor suggested that they take the conversation indoors – once, twice, three times – until the rabbi finally agreed to enter the warm home.

Once inside the rabbi explained: “I’m about to ask you for a donation to buy warm coats for the poor. But before I ask you, I wanted you to feel what it’s like to be cold. Now that you are sensitive to the need, I know that you will give to your greatest capacity.”

Yom Kippur works in much the same way. On this most holy day we pledge to be better people. But in order to make our pledge more significant, we sensitize ourselves to the need for our contribution to the betterment of God’s world.

When we deny ourselves food and drink, we sensitize ourselves to those who are hungry. When we remain physically separated from our spouse, we remember those who are lonely. When we cannot wash up or use creams and cosmetics, we begin to imagine what it’s like for those who have no place to go for a warm shower or other home comforts that we take for granted.

When we refrain from wearing our usual, well-made shoes, we begin to sympathize with those who can’t afford any. When we deny ourselves these ordinary comforts, we literally walk in someone else’s shoes. And that experience should shape our plans for the year to come.

Next time that you feel hungry, lonely, or lacking, don’t let the feeling go to waste. Could God be trying to tell you something? Consider how those experiences might shape your responses to others in need.


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