We are on the eve of the single holiest day of the year. Now you naysayers may try to convince me that Shabbos is holier (as many have tried since I was a young child), but I'm referring to the SINGLE holiest. It is Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It is the only day of the year the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, the only day which he would pronounce the Ineffable Name. It is the only day of the year we pray five Amidot. Should the Tenth of Tishri coincide with Shabbat it is the only day of the year one could fast on Shabbat. And if it doesn't coincide with Shabbat it is the only day of the year that has the same restrictions.
But there are even further restrictions that set this day apart (except for its opposite which we observed exactly 2 months ago, the day of mourning of Tisha B'Av). No eating, no drinking, no leather shoes, no bathing, no washing, no perfume or lotion, no sex. I have I have always been bugged by being wished an easy fast or "tzom kal" on Yom Kippur. The reason we forbid these things is because of the mitzvah of the day from the Torah is "v'initem et nafshoteychem", "and you shall afflict your souls". It's not just a spiritual thing, but also physical. We should suffer for our sins. I think it's the reason that we recite the Eleh Ezkera as the Chatanu Selichah of YK Musaf. This dirge really belongs among the kinot, the elegies of Tisha B'Av. Instead we recite the story of the Ten Martyrs, the accounts of some of the greatest Jews of all time, Rabbi Akiba, Chaninah ben Tradyon, Rashba"g, Rabbi Yishmael the High Priest, and others, all for daring to prevent the evil Roman emperor Hadrian (yesh"u) from snuffing out the flickering flame of Torah in this time of persecution.
But what I'm referring to is the suffering that we inflict upon ourselves on these two days. On Tisha B'Av, the black fast, we abstain from all of these pleasures because we are in deepest mourning, and in addition we sit the floor, praying a subdued state and without melody and are even forbidden to study Torah. On Yom Kippur, the white fast, we abstain for the opposite reasons. "Ki vayom hazeh yechaper aleychem l'taher etchem, mikol chatoteychem, lifnei HASHEM titharu". Today God has given us to atone for our sins. It is on this day Moses decended with the second set of Ten Commandments, a tangible symbol of our forgiveness. Today we become holy. Regarding Genesis 1:26, the verse in which God says "Naaseh Adam b'Tzalmeinu KiDmoteinu", "let Us make man in Our Image", the Ramban, Nachmanides says that humanity emerges from two separate souls: Nefesh Tachton, The nefesh that comes out of the earth from which all living creatures are created, and Nefesh Elyon, that neshamah which comprise the angels so they can perform the Will of God and possess the power of reason. The lower soul has limitations that are inherent in all of the animals, needs for food, sex, sleep,. On Yom Kippur we shed our gashmiyut, our physical needs that limit our potential. We become like the angels who have no such need for sustenance. We are like Moses who shed his body as he ascended into Heaven to plead with God on our behalf.
So we abstain because we are at the level of angels (and thus throughout Yom Kippur we recite the Kedushah that outside of this day is reserved for Shabbat and Festival Musaf, the only one in which we dare to join our words with those of the angels.
Though we definitely need to focus on the daunting task before us, I think we also need to suffer a little. And if fasting is easy for you anyway (as it commonly is for me - I never lost my first wind on Tisha B'Av and even watched the Food network for the last two hours to show my obstinance) then perhaps the Rabbi's sermon or cantorial arias will give you sufficient suffering.
Gmar Chatimah Tov, may we all be forgiven and sealed in the Book of Life for goodness and for peace. May your fast and abstaining be meaningful and allow you to focus and reflect. May it merit the Geulah, the Redemption when we do not need to worry ever again.
(This wasn't meant to be a dvar torah, I originally conceived this as a facebook status update regarding my gripe with people saying Tzom Kal"