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The Five "Afflictions" of Yom Kippur

Rav David Brofsky
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In three places, the Torah dictates what one is to do on Yom Kippur:


And it shall be a statute forever unto you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born or the stranger that sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest (Shabbat Shabbaton) for you, and you shall afflict your souls; it is a statute forever. (Vayikra 16:29-31)


On the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall afflict your souls; and you shall bring an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And you shall do no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatever soul that shall not be afflicted on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And whatever soul that does any manner of work on that same day, that soul will I destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a Sabbath of solemn rest (Shabbat Shabbaton), and you shall afflict your souls; in the ninth day of the month in the evening, from evening unto evening shall you keep your Sabbath. (Vayikra 23:27-32)


And on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation and you shall afflict your souls; you shall do no manner of work. (Bamidbar 29:7)


In these verses, the Torah does not specifically prohibit eating, drinking, or other pleasures, but rather commands that one should "afflict" (ve-initem) oneself on Yom Kippur. What is the definition and nature of this "affliction" and what is its purpose?


In addition, the Torah describes Yom Kippur as a "Shabbat," and even more puzzling, the Torah juxtaposes the phrase "Shabbat Shabbaton" with the command of "ve-initem." What is the relationship between "ve-initem" and "Shabbat Shabbaton"?


The Five Afflictions


            The mishna (Yoma 73b) teaches:


On Yom Kippur it is prohibited in engage in eating and drinking, in washing oneself, in anointing [one's body with oil], in wearing shoes, and in marital relations. The king and a bride may wash their faces, and a new mother may wear shoes. These are the words of R. Eliezer. But the Sages prohibit this.


The gemara (74b) proves that the phrase "inuy," as used in the Torah, refers to depriving oneself of eating and drinking. Thus, all agree that these two prohibitions are biblically prohibited and that only they incur the punishment of "karet" if violated.


Regarding the other four prohibitions, the Talmud (76a) asks:


To what do these five afflictions correspond? R. Chisda said: They correspond to the five [times] afflictions are stated in the Torah… These are only five, yet we learned in the mishna there are six [afflictions]? Drinking is included in "eating."


The Rishonim debate whether the other four prohibitions are prohibited mi-de’oraita (biblically) or mi-derabbanan (rabbinically). Most Rishonim argue that these prohibitions are mi-derabbanan (Rashi 74a, s.v. shabbaton; Rabbeinu Tam in Tosafot 77a, s.v. di-tnan; Tosafot Yeshanim 73b; Rosh, Yoma 8:1; Ritva 73b; Chinukh 313).


These Rishonim bring numerous proofs to support their claim. First, the language of the gemara above, which asks, "To what do these five afflictions correspond," and not "What is the source for these afflictions," implies that the gemara viewed these prohibitions as rabbinic in origin. Second, the Rishonim point to the halakhic differences between the prohibitions of eating and drinking and the other afflictions. Only eating and drinking on Yom Kippur incur the punishment of "karet." Furthermore, in the mishna, R. Eliezer permits a king and bride to wash their faces and a new mother to wear leather shoes. Had the prohibition of washing been mi-de’oraita, we would not expect to find such exceptions. Similarly, the gemara (77b) teaches that if one was soiled with mud or excrement, one may wash oneself, and one who has scabs on his head may anoint himself as he usually does. Again, had the prohibition been of biblical origin, we would not expect to find these exceptions. The Tosafot Yeshanim suggest that this discussion may actually be the basis for the debate between R. Eliezer and the Sages, although they reject this possibility.


Due to the problems raised above, it would seem quite difficult to maintain that the other afflictions are prohibited mi-de’oraita unless we were to either redefine what exactly is prohibited mi-de’oraita or reevaluate our assumption that a biblical law cannot tolerate exceptions.


Some attempt to resolve these difficulties. For example, R. Eliezer of Metz (12th century), author of the Yer'eim (420), argues that mi-de’oraita, only bathing most of one's body for pleasure is prohibited. Mi-derabbanan, however, one may not bathe even a small part of one's body for pleasure. A king and a bride, who wash only part of their body (the face), were excluded from this prohibition, as was one who washes part of his body that has become soiled. Similarly, the Tosafot Yeshanim suggest (and reject) the possibility that the Torah only prohibited wearing a "min'al," shoes that cover the entire foot, while a "sandal," which only partially covers the foot, is prohibited only mi-derabbanan, but permitted for a new mother.


R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv), in his commentary to the She'iltot, Ha’amek She'ela (167), defends R. Achai Gaon, who rules that all five afflictions are mi-de’oraita. He explains that while eating and drinking entail "aveidat nefesh" - life depends on them - the other four afflictions generally entail refraining from enjoyment. Washing, anointing, or wearing leather shoes in situations that do not involve "pleasure" were not prohibited by the Torah, but rather mi-derabbanan. Therefore, R. Eliezer permitted a king and bride to wash their faces and a new mother to wear shoes, as they do not do so for enjoyment. Similarly, the She'iltot explains that one may wear leather shoes in order to walk in an area with scorpions, as in that case, the shoes are not worn for enjoyment, but rather for protection. This theory enables the Netziv to explain the halakhic discrepancies between eating and drinking and the other inuyim.


While these opinions attempt to resolve the apparent difficulties in asserting that the other inuyim are biblically prohibited and to explain the halakhic discrepancies between eating and drinking and the other afflictions, the Ran (Rif 1a) offers a unique approach, redefining how we understand the notion of a "biblical prohibition:"


Therefore, it seems to me that all of the afflictions are mi-deoraita… and the Scriptures gave over the authority to the Sages and they were lenient, as they saw fit, and permitted that which was not done for pleasure…


In other words, while the core prohibition of "and you shall afflict" is mi-de’oraita, its specific details were determined by the Sages. The Sages, therefore, determined that a king and a bride, as well as one who wishes only to remove dirt, may wash. We find a similar idea (Chagiga 18a) regarding the prohibition of melakha (labor) on Chol Ha-Moed, the intermediate days of a festival (see Tosafot there, s.v. cholo shel moed and Rambam, Hilkhot Yom Tov 7:1, as well as Yere'im 274 and Ramban, Vayikra 23:24).


The Acharonim discuss the position of the Rambam at length, debating whether he agrees with those who view the other prohibitions as being of biblical or rabbinic origin. The Rambam (Hilkhot Shevitat Asor 1:1, 4-5) writes:


It is a positive commandment to refrain from all work on the tenth [day] of the seventh month, as it states [Vayikra 16:31]: "It shall be a Sabbath of Sabbaths for you."


There is another positive commandment on Yom Kippur to refrain from eating and drinking, as it states [Vayikra 16:29]: "You shall afflict your souls." According to the Oral Tradition, it has been taught: What is meant by afflicting one's soul? Fasting. 

Whoever fasts on this day fulfills a positive commandment. Whoever eats or drinks on this day negates the observance of [this] positive commandment and violates a negative commandment, as it states [Vayikra 23:29]: "Any soul that does not afflict itself will be cut off." Since the Torah punishes a person who does not fast with karet, we can derive from this that we are forbidden to eat and drink on this day.


Similarly, according to the Oral Tradition, it has been taught that it is forbidden to wash, anoint oneself, wear shoes, or engage in sexual relations on this day. It is a mitzva to refrain from these activities in the same way one refrains from eating and drinking. This is derived from [the exegesis of the expression] "a Sabbath of Sabbaths." "A Sabbath" implies refraining from eating [according to another version, "with regard to work"]; "of Sabbaths" implies refraining from these activities. One does not incur karet or become obligated to bring a sacrifice except [for violating] eating and drinking. However, if one washes or anoints or wears leather shoes or engages in marital relations, one receives rabbinical lashes (makat mardut).


On the one hand, the Rambam writes that one who violates one of the four afflictions receives "makat mardut," implying that these inuyim are only mi-derabbanan. On the other hand, the Rambam writes, "It is a mitzva to refrain from these activities in the same way one refrains from eating and drinking" - seemingly equating the prohibitions of eating and drinking and the other afflictions.


The Ran insists that the Rambam prohibits the other afflictions mi-de’oraita. The Maggid Mishneh (1:5) disagrees, explaining that the Rambam distinguishes between eating and drinking, which are prohibited mi-de’oraita, and the other inuyuim, which are prohibited mi-derabbanan.


Interestingly, the Rambam, both in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (Positive Command 164) and in his Peirush Ha-Mishna (Yoma 8:1), writes that the five afflictions are known "through tradition" (min ha-kabbala), implying that they are mi-deoraita.


R. Moshe Soloveitchik, as cited by his son R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, notes an intriguing point in the Rambam. The Rambam implies that the phrase "Shabbat" applies equally to refraining from labor and to refraining from eating, drinking, and the other inuyim. In other words, the prohibition against "melakha" and the requirement to fast emerge from essentially the same halakhic origin. R. Soloveitchik raises numerous ramifications and expressions of this principle. For our purposes, we will note that according to the Rambam, the Torah does not prohibit eating, drinking, or other pleasures, but rather demands that we "rest," or abstain from these activities, just as we refrain from prohibited labor. Indeed, as we noted above, the Torah repeatedly mentions the commandment regarding the afflictions along with the theme of shabbaton.


            If so, how are we to understand the "afflictions" of Yom Kippur? What role to they play, and why are they referred to as "shabbaton"?


The Nature of the Inuyim


Ostensibly, "ve-initem et nafshoteikhem" (Vayikra 16:31, 23:27, 23:32, Bamidbar 29:7) should be translated literally: "And you shall afflict your souls." The apparent purpose of the inuyim is to afflict, to cause discomfort, in order to motivate the person to repent. Indeed, this assumption seems to guide the gemara (Yoma 74b), at least initially, in the following discussion.


The Rabbis taught: "You should afflict yourselves" (Vayikra 16:29). It might be thought that this means that one should sit in the [hot] sun or in the cold in order to suffer. To advise otherwise, the Torah then states, "And you shall not do any work" (ibid.). [The linking of the two verses teaches:] Just as [the injunction against] work is a command to sit and not do, so too the commandment of afflicting oneself is a command to sit and not do. But say in a case where one sits in the sun and becomes hot, we would not say to him, "Get up and sit in the shade." Or where one sits in the shade and becomes cold, we should not say to him, "Get up and sit in the sun!" [The gemara answers: The mitzva of afflicting oneself is] similar to [refraining from] work: Just as you do not differentiate concerning work, so too you do not differentiate regarding affliction.


At first, the gemara clearly understands the obligation of "you shall afflict yourselves" as an imperative to cause oneself discomfort. Afterwards, the gemara suggests that while one need not actively cause discomfort, one should certainly not improve one's state of comfort. Finally, the gemara concludes that just as "work" refers to specific labors that are always prohibited, "affliction" refers to specific forms of "inuy," or abstention, which apply in all situations.


The gemara does not indicate, however, the extent to which it clings to its initial assumption. In other words, does the gemara still understand the primary goal of inuy as causing discomfort?


Regarding the mitzva to eat on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Shibbolei Ha-Leket and the Torah Temima suggest that the Torah wants one to eat excessively the day before a fast in order that one will suffer even more on the day of the fast itself. Clearly, the Shibbolei Ha-Leket and Torah Temima understand "ve-initem" literally - one should ideally suffer great discomfort on Yom Kippur.


Most Rishonim (Rashi, Rosh), however, explain that the Torah commands the Jewish People to eat on the eve Yom Kippur so that they should experience less discomfort during the fast, or to express one's joy upon the opportunity to receive absolution (Rabbeinu Yona, Ritva). These Rishonim seem to disagree with the first opinion; they do not view experiencing discomfort as the goal of the day.


Furthermore, according to the Rambam, as we explained above, inuyim are a fulfillment of "shabbaton," similar to refraining from doing melakha. Apparently, the inuyim would be better described as abstentions from the physical world, a withdrawal from day-to-day activities, rather than an attempt to cause discomfort.  Indeed, the Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (45) accurately portrays the function of the inuyim when it compares the Jewish People to the ministering angels who are completely removed from physicality and devoted to fulfilling God's commandments.


            In order to repent fully and achieve complete forgiveness, the Torah commands us to withdraw from the physical world and to focus upon the world of spirit, if only for a day.  Causing oneself pain and discomfort is not the Torah’s intention.



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