My Yom Kippur Big Mac

My Yom Kippur Big Mac

I was 18-years-old, a college sophomore in Maine on Yom Kippur. My college had flown up a student rabbi from HUC to lead the services, but I decided to play hooky from services and do my own thing to connect with this important day.

At that point in my life, I knew next to nothing about Yom Kippur. I knew way more about the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, than the Temple Service of the High Priest or Yom Kippur’s 5 prohibitions.

But I knew that I was Jewish, and that this was huge day for Jews, like me. So I decided to mark this important day by skipping classes and going on a long walk and contemplating my life. And, for the first time in my life, I decided, I was going to fast for all of Yom Kippur.

My journey past the thick pine trees on the edge of campus and out of Brunswick felt deep and somber. Heavy even. I felt like a fasting yellow-robed Buddhist monk walked barefoot across breadth of Tibet.

I walked past the army base at the edge of town and all the way to a strip mall in the next town over where I watched a Shirley MacLaine movie that made me cry.

But by the end of the movie, I was really hungry. It was Yom Kippur, but c’mon, I was literally starving! So I took out an apple I’d brought just in case, and ate it.

And then, I left the movie theater and across the parking lot, I saw it–the yellow arches.

And I went inside, and ordered a Big Mac, and ate it. Boy, was it good.

Did I feel guilty afterwards? Naah. Yom Kippur was a nice tradition, but it was way too hard. Though, I had to admit that I felt a lot less like a barefoot Tibetan monk on my way back to campus than I had on my way out of town.

I was remembering that yummy Big Mac yesterday, when I was listening to my teacher Dina Friedman talking this week about life’s regrets.

“If you had to stand before G-d today, completely transparent, and He saw everything you had ever thought or done, would you feel comfortable? Would you feel happy about that?”

And I thought back to that Big Mac, and other things I’ve done over the course of my life that I’m ashamed of. Thinking of my awful-thing list, I felt my stomach clench up with regret.

But, Dina said, there’s rarely reason to feel shame over the things we’ve done wrong.

“The question is,” she explained, “when you did what you did, were you doing your best? Taking into consideration your limited knowledge or understanding, or stress level, or life circumstances?”

And I realized, it was true. When I had walked into that McDonalds on Yom Kippur, I was doing my best considering the very little I knew about Judaism at the age of 18.

Would I feel comfortable standing in front of Hashem, with that Yom Kipper binge in my past? And I realized, yes I would.

Because I’ve done some pretty shameful things, but looking back I realize I was always doing my best at the time. And that’s what I am going to try to continue doing. My best given my limitations and circumstances.

Without shame. Regret. Yom Kippur Big Macs and all.

12 comments

  1. we can apply that same message to our role as parents. if we look back on our parenting learning curve, there were some jarring mistakes, wrong moves, poor decisions. but we were always trying our best, with the limited knowledge and experience we had at the time. many of us mothers constantly punish ourselves for those decisions made in the dark of our experience. it is time to put our lives into perspective, forgive ourselves, and keep growing forward.

  2. I agree with what you wrote whole heartedly. In fact, about a year ago when I felt like I was doing my very best, but wished I was doing more as a mom and as a daughter I wrote myself a note that I keep in a drawer of keepsakes and on it is written, “I did my very best today” …. so that years later, when my memory has faded and I have forgotten how hard the day to day of raising a family is and I think of all the things that I could have done better or wished that I had done differently, that I can pull out that note and know for sure that I really have done my very best.

  3. Anonymous

    But how do we decipher when we were not doing our best? I am very sleep deprived and have been largely single parenting many young children while my husband is very busy with his career. I have been getting angry with my children a lot lately. In a stressful moment I can feel myself at a crossroads and I can feel myself pausing and I choose anger…basically because it’s easier and my yezter hara is telling me it will be so satisfying and right, and then both me and my children suffer the consequences. But it’s in the context of a lot of physical and mental and emotional stress, but I am still making a conscious choice. It sure doesn’t feel like my best. Thoughts?

    • @anon
      I reread your post and I wondered if I wrote it 😉

    • Anonymous Mommy whoever you are. I TOTALLY get you. That was me before I had a breakdown one Rosh Hashana and literally begged Hashem to help me build the home of simcha and kedusha that I REALLY wanted. That was me before I made a strong committment that day to REALLY make that my mitzvah of the year. That was the day I began self care, under the umbrella of being a better Mommy and a better avodas haKodesh. And, literally, EVERYTHING changed. I still, occasionally get short tempered at bedtime (my husband too is rarely around due to work related issues) but I create day around my being healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually to be a happy Mommy for my kids and a happy wife to my husband AND on being the best Yid, Wife and Mommy I can be. This will be different for everyone. And while it did include for me having to say no to some other mitzvas I used to be involved with, each of those decisions is weighed against the backdrop of “is this really what Hashem wants? Is this really avodas HaKodesh” And I can say with total clarity that sometimes, taking a walk around my neighborhood for 20 minutes BY MYSELF is my avodas Hakodesh. And what I can certainly say, is that my home is a happier, safer, more enjoyable and more Kodesh place than it was before–for ALL of us!! I wish you much much much brocho and hatzlacha!!!

  4. Hi Anonymous,
    I would like to recommend a website that was helpful to me when I was struggling ( in addition to this amazing website, of course !). It comes from a section of the Chabad website called “Help! I’ve got kids!” … if you click this link ( or copy and paste in your browser if it does not post as a link)

    https://www.chabad.org/blogs/blog_cdo/aid/631187/jewish/Help-Ive-got-kids.htm

    And scroll down through a couple of questions and answers you will get to one that says “Bad Parenting Days”. It starts like this:

    “Everyone has those days — days that you wish you could just do all over again. Sometimes, it starts first thing in the morning. You get out of bed in a bad mood (having slept way too little the previous night, what with all the interruptions from the little ones). And yet, whether you have the energy for it or not, “the show must go on.” You’ve got to get the kids out the door on time, cleaned, dressed, fed and all the rest. Of course, they’re fighting and balking and dawdling – not helping at all and in fact, making it harder for you. Is it any wonder that you just start screaming? Your nerve endings feel fried, and it’s not even 8:30a.m.”

    I highly recommend that you read the rest of this article on their website, because it is encouraging and has helpful suggestions and it sounds like it might be similar to what you are dealing with. It was encouraging for me . We moms are pulling for you!

  5. Dear anonymous,
    I so relate to every word you wrote. I was in a very similar situation a few years back, angry, aggressive and almost abusive to my children because of all the stress I was under. Please, please get help. Going to therapy was the best step I’ve ever taken! I can be reached through jewishmom.

  6. What I like about what you said is also that at least for me it works in reverse too. What happens when I seem to be doing well but actually did NOT do my best? One example that is a big issue for me: putting community chessed above my family’s needs. Doing community chessed I look good and people tell me how giving I am. However actually to do my best I have to let go of that ego trip and do first what my family needs, even though they may not thank me as much and even if they do nobody else knows. THAT is something I would not be so happy to stand in front of Hashem with before a process of teshuva even though it looks so good on the outside.

  7. I think as baal teshuvas, yes, we should acknowledge that we “did not know any better” but at the same time as frum Jews who now know the value of Torah and mitzvot, an avera should hurt us. An avera SHOULD be something that we regret.
    Similar to an avera done “b’shogeg” – when we had a Beit Hamikdash, we had to bring a korban. But it was b’shogeg and not at all intentional! Still. The korban, the regret, the forgiveness is for ourselves to be more alert and sensitive to the future.

    I am a BT and yes, I know that it was meant for me to grow up in a nonfrum home and environment and receive many of the “stratches” that I did, but it does not mean I am proud of that past. I am proud of the changes I have made, but I still regret the sins of the past, even if they were “b’shogeg” or “trying my best” and I very much hope they are erased when it comes to the movie of my lie.

    Rabbi Wallerstein often speaks of Teshuva m’ahava that not only erases the sin in the “movie of our life” but rather turns the sin into a mitzvah. Regret merely erases the sin, but teshuva m’ahava, love of HaShem and His holy Torah and mitzvot turns our sins into mitzvot!
    Wow. So amazing. 🙂

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