Once upon a time a king went hunting on a hot October day. After a few hours he felt hot and tired, so he decided to stop for lunch. His servants unpacked a large picnic basket and set up a table.
The king didn't want to eat with his servants, but he also didn’t want to eat alone, so he asked one of his servants to find someone who would eat lunch with the king. The servant walked out to a nearby road, saw a 13-year-old boy walking along, and told him that the king wanted to see him. The boy was very surprised and a little frightened, but he agreed.
The table had been set with wonderful food and drink. The king told the boy to sit down next to him and eat. The boy sat down, but he did not eat.
After a few minutes the king asked, “Why don’t you eat? My food is prepared by the best cook in the kingdom. It is the best tastingm food in the country. Doesn't it look good to you?”
“It looks great and I am sure it is the best food I will ever taste,” answered the boy, “but I can’t eat it.”
“Did you just finish eating lunch?” asked the king. “If so, you do not have to eat a whole meal. Just have some of these great desserts.”
“Actually I did not eat lunch today,” the boy replied, “but I cannot eat anything, not even one of those really good looking cookies.”
The king was surprised. “Are you sick?” he asked “Is that why you have lost your appetite?”
“No,” said the boy, “I am not sick and I haven't lost my appetite.”
“Then why are you not hungry?” asked the king.
“I am hungry,” said the boy. “I haven't eaten breakfast or lunch and I am very, very hungry.”
The king looked bewildered, “Then why don't you eat since you are hungry and the food is delicious?” he asked, almost shouting.
“Because today is Yom Kippur, and I am 13 years old,” the boy replied.
“What is Yom Kippur and what does it have to do with being 13 years old?”
“Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday in which all faithful Jews 13 years or older are commanded by God to fast. We cannot eat or drink anything from sunset to sunset, so I have not eaten since dinner last night. This is the first year that I am responsible for doing the entire fast. Before I became 13, I only had to fast half a day, and that was not so hard. All I did was skip breakfast and not
eat any snacks till lunch. I knew that fasting all day on Yom Kippur would be a test of my willpower and my commitment to being a faithful Jew, but I never thought I would be tempted to eat a meal fit for a king!”
The king was so impressed by the boy's self discipline and commitment to being a faithful Jew, that he told the boy to come to the palace the next day with his entire family to have dinner with him and the queen. And that is what they did.
The two families became friends and continued to have dinner at the palace each year. One year the king also tried to fast on Yom Kippur, but he was only able to fast until 4 p.m. “I guess if you don't start when you are young, it is a lot harder than it looks,” he said.
Rabbi Allen S. Maller is rabbi of the Temple Akiba in Culver City, California, and author of God, Sex, and Kabbalah.on, Massachusetts.