Home » David Werdiger, Religion and Jewish Thought

Yom Kippur Day Spa

September 25, 2009 – 12:39 pm9 Comments
Aldon Day Spa. Source: berlin.unlike.net/locations/345-Aldon-Day-Spa/

Aldon Day Spa. Source: berlin.unlike.net/locations/345-Aldon-Day-Spa/

By David Werdiger

They call it a day spa for a reason. You are encouraged to take a day off, and immerse yourself in the luxurious environment of the spa. Switch off your mobile phone; leave your Blackberry at the door – communication with the outside world is discouraged. There are no TVs displaying 24-hour news channels, or internet display panels on the walls – the things that constantly bombard us with what is happening in the world are noticeably absent.

At the day spa, you spend some quality time looking after yourself. A massage or a facial will gently rub away the stress in your life. An exfoliation will scrape away the invisible filth that has attached itself to your skin, and then a wrap will aid detoxification. The sauna or steam room might have a similar effect, shvitzing the toxins out of your body.

Afterwards, you come away feeling cleansed in a very different way. The treatments themselves are doubly effective because of the environment of escape, albeit temporary, from the worries of the world. While lying there and relaxing, you know full well than in a few hours it will be over, and you will be forced back to the grind, but for now, it is possible to live the moment.

Yom Kippur is a day spa for the soul.

No phone. No food or drink. Sneakers that look quite weird with a suit, but everyone else is wearing the same, so it doesn’t matter.

The service in shul is long and intense. Themes of life and death are everywhere we look. Avinu Malkeinu – our father, our King (five times). Al Chet – confession for our sins (ten times, according to some customs).

For twenty five hours, we leave the world and spend some quality time on our soul.

At the end of it all, as we all call out the verse Shema Yisrael together at the climax of the Neila service, we might feel very mortal, thinking of those who died with those words, and intensely spiritual, particularly connected to God, all at once.

In our shul, before the blowing of the shofar, we all dance to the tune of Napoleon’s March. It’s a victory march; an elated celebration of God’s forgiveness; a bridge between the spiritual immersion of Yom Kippur, and the real world we must come back to. By then, we are barely hungry for food, rather spiritually satiated.

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  • rachsd says:

    Somewhat related to the Yom Kippur / day spa metaphor, there is a custom to go to mikve (not a day spa, but it’s quite physical and involves water) on Erev Yom Kippur. It’s for men and women regardless of relationship status, and I find it a really great way to prepare for the big day. I’m not sure of the details for men, but for women there are two mikves in St Kilda East/Ripponlea (if you don’t want to go in the sea) and they will both be open in the morning of Erev YK.

  • TheSadducee says:

    “In our shul, before the blowing of the shofar, we all dance to the tune of Napoleon’s March.”

    -why? The Alter Rebbe didn’t actually support Napoleon – you’d probably be more honestly suited to God Save the Czar wouldn’t you?

  • Francis says:

    Nice metaphor David, although it did remind me of an acquantance who had a Reform mikveh literally at a Day Spa (which has hot springs), which I guess was both relaxing and somewhat spiritual!

  • Fantastic question Sadducee – check out this which discusses it.

    We also sing Ha’aderet V’ha’emunah to the French national anthem – not sure if that’s connected at all.

  • ariel says:

    David, this is a great metaphor.
    Rabbi Aron Moss in Sydney used this week’s dust storm to describe the necessity of YK in response to a question sent to him.

    Regarding mikveh, I believe that on erev YK it’s almost become a halacha for everybody to go to the mikveh. There is only one mens’ mikveh in Sydney, so I tend to go to a small bay where very few people tend to be (although on a Sunday arvo it may be quite full, so I may have to go elsewhere)

    Also David, I would venture that the Chabad custom to sing Ha’aderet to the tune of La Marseillaise came from the Rebbe’s time in France during WW2…

  • The Hasid says:

    Thank you for this very thoughtful post. I love Yom Kippur. I’m generally not a very ‘spiritual’ person, but I find YK to be an excellent, peaceful time for reflection. I feel reminded of my insignificance in the world, but also my ability to do good, improve myself and affect positive change for others. It’s a bit of a contradiction, but it makes me feel simultaneously big and small.

    It always amuses me a little when people comment on how hard it must be to fast for 25 hours. While it’s not easy, there’s a lot to be gained from from the experience of completely fasting for a day. It’s very humbling.

  • ra says:

    Hasid, I also find the comments people make about how hard it must be to fast for YK somewhat odd – particularly given some of the older members of my family tell me, “Fast? Darlink, I don’t fast anymore, ve fasted for five years.”

  • The attitude of Holocaust survivors to the Jewish fast days is an interesting one. Some only observe YK and Tisha B’Av and ignore the others. The “we fasted for five years” line may reflect the sentiment that fasting evokes particularly difficult memories of a time when there was nothing to eat. As the child of a survivor, I was brought up never, ever let food go to waste. This is so strongly ingrained in me that I’m always the one in the house stuck eating leftovers that no-one else wants.

    Another comment I heard in response to the suggestion that someone go to mikveh (ritual bath) was “I was already immersed in fire”.

  • The Hasid says:

    DW – my Dad calls himself The Human Compactor for this reason. I’m happy to report that the attitude has filtered down! There’s nothing I love more than re-working leftovers til every bit of the original meal is consumed in its entirety.

    ra – my Grandmother always used to refuse maror on Pesach – each year the same wryly delivered line: “My life has been bitter enough!”

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