On the Phenomena of Want and Need

October 10, 2011

Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” is said to be the holiest day in Judaism. It is a day to demonstrate one’s repentance at a last chance to be written in “the book of life.” One of the rituals of Yom Kippur is a fast that lasts approximately 25 hours, from sunset to sunset. But what does all of that mean to me?


Fasting and Atonement

Fasting seems to mean different things to different people. At its most spiritual application, it is the opportunity to demonstrate atonement. It can be used as an opportunity to diet. Or save money on food. Some people do it because it’s just what you do on Yom Kippur. A couple other students here said that they use Yom Kippur as a day of rest, and use the rest to keep their minds off of the hunger.

When I was a practicing Roman Catholic, I would observe Lent, and fasted by giving up certain luxuries for forty days. But I’ll admit, I didn’t think too much about what that was supposed to mean. But it’s been a long time since then, and I am a different person now. And of course, I now find myself in Jerusalem, Israel.



So what did I do on Yom Kippur?

I didn’t fast on Yom Kippur, but I did spend time thinking. I pondered on the phenomena of human want and need. What do we have? What do we take for granted? What do I think I want, and how does that compare to the wants of others?

The other week, we had a water outage due to a break in the water main near the kfar. It had been a long day of dance, and I was hungry, thirsty, and dirty. I was unable to cook, clean, shower, flush, wash, or drink. I realized how much I take for granted the luxury of running water. Of running POTABLE water. I didn’t know how long the water would be out, but I wondered all sorts of things about how my needs would change if water was truly scarce.

How much would it cost to buy water to drink? How long would I be able to do that before it got too expensive? How often would I shower? Would I find other ways without water to clean myself? Really just about how much water do I use per day, and what is the true bare minimum amount of water I could survive on? Exactly how does it feel to be that thirsty? Less clean? More conscious of the value of water…

These thoughts carried on through Yom Kippur. They expanded to food, and why people give it up for Yom Kippur and (sort of) for Lent. I considered food, and what function it has in our daily lives, aside from nourishment… (It’s largely social, it seems!) My mind soon examined everything in my life, and how fortunate I am simply to have. I am lucky to be surrounded by friends, to be clothed, to be educated, to be fed, to be able to travel, to drink water, et cetera. When I think of those that aren’t so lucky, and I begin to feel spoiled and wasteful.

Altogether, this mode of thinking keeps me in check. I have more than what I really need to live. What I think I want at times isn’t actually that important. What bothers me sometimes isn’t really worth worrying about.

It’s all about perspective, and I’m grateful to be in a place that grants me a different one.

One comment

  1. I really like this.

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