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Why Fast? Thoughts from the Yom Kippur Yenta

Why Fast? I am reminded of a true story, about a Rabbi driving to services on Yom Kippur. There he was, driving down the highway, reviewing the sermon in his head, while apparently, pushing the gas pedal to the mat, when lights flashing and sirens blaring, a motorcycle cop pulled him over.

Smile on his face, hands on the wheel, the Rabbi turned to the uniformed officer by his side. Said the cop, “I’ve been following you for a block and a half. Did you realize you were speeding?” “Not really”, replied the Rabbi honestly. “Well, I clocked you at 55 in a 30 mile per hour zone”, “he said. “What’s your rush?”

What’s my rush? wondered the Rabbi. Do I tell him that I’m a Rabbi about to lead services on Yom Kippur, the most sacred of Jewish days? Do I admit being so caught up reviewing the sermon I was to preach within the hour that I failed to notice how fast I was driving? Do I face up to my sins by admitting that I regularly speed on this stretch of roadway or do I ask for a mere warning? Figuring Yom Kippur was not the day to shade the truth, the Rabbi responded, “sorry, sir”.

The officer wrote out the speeding ticket and handed it over, saying “sorry about this, sir, but you really should slow down.” And then, just before he left, the cop turned and in a voice dripping with irony, whispered, “oh, and Rabbi, next time, try to stay out of the fast lane”.

Stay out of the fast lane, he says, to a Rabbi who has not eaten since the day before. Slow down, he says, to a person who like so many in this room, spends much of his day rushing around from one place to the next. We cannot slow down! We rush from home to office, to school or on errands, from meeting to meeting and from activity to activity, shlepping ourselves, our kids, or our parents to the next important event, rarely stopping to fully enjoy the moment because we are desperately trying to remember the next place we have to rush off to.

Slow down, he says. But there is not enough time, we reply, as we think back over our day. “Hurry up, we are going to be late”, we yelled at the kids this morning as we rushed them off to school. “Hurry up, or we will miss the deadline,” we heard this afternoon from our boss or our co-workers. “Hurry up and make a decision,” we called out to our friends, even though the best decisions are often made when we take them slowly. “Hurry up, hurry up! We will miss the next opportunity!” So we hurry even though we realize that in rushing onward, we failed to savor this opportunity. And so it continues, until the officer dressed in blue, our angel from on high, cautions us to slow down. Like the angel in the story of the binding of Isaac who commands Abraham to slow down and consider what he is about to do before he plunges that knife into the heart of his much loved son Isaac, our motorcycle angel warns us to slow down, to get out of the fast lane, before we end up killing ourselves.

During the High Holidays, the most sacred days of our year, we are warned to bring about radical change in our normal behavior, to stop blindly rushing onward, to start looking inward, and yes, to get out of the fast lane, so that we can focus on the task at hand: self-judgment and asking forgiveness.

[That’s the Story, Now Read on for the Reasons to Fast]

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