Let all who are hungry come and eat...

A Hunger for Something Higher

Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold

By Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold

This post originally appeared as part of our 2014 Rosh Hashanah newsletter.

During this season, we are engaged in the process of repentance, which culminates with the fast of Yom Kippur, a day when we deny our physical bodies in order to concentrate on our spiritual selves. Although it is a day when we try and focus on our non-material needs, it often becomes a time when we constantly think about food. How many hours are left? What will I eat to break my fast? You know what I would love to eat right about now…?

While fasting is meant to take our minds away from our physical bodies, it often serves makes us think about nothing else. Rather than see this as a failing, perhaps we can utilize this as an exercise in sensitizing ourselves to what it feels like to worry about where one’s next meal is coming from. When focusing on our most basic physical necessities, it is hard to think of anything higher. Those under great financial strain may find it almost impossible to strive for fulfillment in any other realm, whether in religion, career, or family.

The prophet Amos declares, (8:11), “Behold days are approaching, says the Lord, when I will cast a famine over the land. It will not be a hunger for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord. ”

Amos speaks about human beings’ deep-seated need for a spiritual connection. It is like hunger, like a drive for the basic necessities of bread and water. However, those among us who do hunger for life’s most basic physical needs, do not have the luxury of focusing on spiritual needs. They are concerned with daily physical sustenance for themselves and their families. When there is no hunger for food, we can then cultivate spiritual hunger, our passion and drive toward becoming our best Jewish selves.

We certainly hope for a spiritual Yom Kippur experience, without thinking about the lox and bagels at the end of the day. However, we can also use the experience of fasting to motivate us to help those who are in need. Providing someone with their physical food needs gives them more than just material sustenance. It allows them the freedom to think beyond the physical. Only when there is no hunger for bread can there be a healthy hunger for spiritual sustenance.

Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold is the Director of Education & Spiritual Enrichment at Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.

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