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The Laws and Practices of Erev Yom Kippur

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Many customs and laws occupy us on the day preceding Yom Kippur.  Some are accustomed to visit cemeteries before Yom Kippur (Rama 605), others participate in kapparot (ibid.) by swinging a live chicken or a small sack of money above their heads, and some were even accustomed to receive malkot (lashes) in order to motivate themselves to repent.  This week, we will focus on a number of central laws and customs observed on Erev Yom Kippur: asking for forgiveness, immersion in a mikve, viduy (confession) and eating.

Asking Forgiveness before Yom Kippur

          It is customary to ask forgiveness from one's fellow man before Yom Kippur.  We even find that for thirteen years, Rav visited R. Chanina on the day before Yom Kippur to beg his forgiveness (Yoma 87b).  This practice is based upon the following mishna:

For sins between man and God Yom Kippur atones, but for sins between man and his fellow Yom Kippur does not atone until he appeases his fellow.  R. Elazar ben Azarya derived [this from the verse]: "From all your sins before God you shall be cleansed" (Vayikra 16:30) – for sins between man and God Yom Kippur atones, but for sins between man and his fellow Yom Kippur does not atone until he appeases his fellow.

The gemara (87a) continues:

R. Yitzchak said: Whoever aggravates his fellow even through words is required to placate him… R. Yosi bar Chanina said: Whoever beseeches forgiveness from his friend should not beseech him more than three times.  And if he died, [the offender] brings ten people and must stand them by his grave and he says, "I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and so-and-so whom I wounded."

Furthermore, the Talmud (Bava Kama 92a) teaches that one should be quick to forgive.

Whence can we learn that should the injured person not forgive him he would be [stigmatized as] cruel? From the words: "So Avraham prayed unto God and God healed Avimelekh"  (Bereishit 20:17). 

In fact, the gemara (Yoma 87a) relates that "When R. Zeira would have grounds [for a grievance] against someone, he would pass in front [of the offender], thereby making himself available to him so that he would come and appease him." Similarly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Teshuva 2:10) writes: "This is the way of the Israelite people and their principled heart." Indeed, as Rava (Rosh Hashana 17a) asserts: "Anyone who passes over his measures [i.e., relinquishes his rights and does not judge those who have wronged him], they [God] pass over all of his sins."

          Only under certain circumstances, such as for the benefit of the offender (Yoma 87b) or if one was publically maligned, is the victim not obligated to forgive (Rema 406:1), although it is certainly proper (Mishna Berura 11). 

          Some Acharonim question whether one who knows that he has been forgiven must still ask for forgiveness.  Seemingly, this relates to a fascinating question: Are we concerned merely with the victim forgiving the offender, or with the offender actually asking for forgiveness as part of the process of repentance?  One of the most uncomfortable situations involves the following scenario: What if one does not know that he has been offended, and by asking for forgiveness, the offender may actually cause his distress? R. Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838 - 1933), in his Sefer Chafetz Chayim (5:12), writes:

One who sinned against his friend without his knowledge but did not cause him any embarrassment or distress or damage, as those who heard rejected his words, does NOT have to ask for forgiveness from his friend. This is considered a sin between man and God, and he should express remorse, and accept upon himself not to speak lashon ha-ra in the future.  However, if he spoke ill of someone without his friend knowing and he was embarrassed by this… even if his friend doesn't know this, he must still reveal to him what he has done and ask forgiveness from him. 

In his Mishna Berura (606:3), he writes that if specifying the offense will cause a person embarrassment, the offender need not specify it.  He adds, however, that one who asks forgiveness from a group of people has not fulfilled his obligation if he knows that he wronged a specific person. 

R. Yisrael Salanter (cited by numerous Acharonim) disagrees and recommends that one should thoroughly consider ones actions, as at times merely asking someone for forgiveness may constitute a sin of causing someone distress.  R. Binyamin Zilber, in his Az Nidberu (7:66), rules accordingly.

R. Avraham Danziger (1748-1820), author of the Chayei Adam (144), formulated and popularized the famous opening supplication of Yom Kippur, Tefilla Zakka.  This moving prayer, recited by individuals before Kol Nidrei, bemoans how man has misused his God-given abilities; instead of using them for the service of God, he has used them for sin.  The climax of this prayer, which even those who do not have sufficient time to recite the entire Tefilla Zakka should recite, reads:

I know that there is no one so righteous that they have not wronged another, financially or physically, through deed or speech.  This pains my heart within me, because wrongs between humans and their fellow are not atoned by Yom Kippur until the wronged one is appeased.  Because of this, my heart breaks within me, and my bones tremble; for even the day of death does not atone for such sins.  Therefore, I prostrate and beg before You to have mercy on me and grant me grace, compassion, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all people.  For behold, I forgive with a final and resolved forgiveness anyone who has wronged me, whether in person or property, even if they slandered me or spread falsehoods against me.  So I release anyone who has injured me either in person or in property, or has committed any manner of sin that one may commit against another [except for legally enforceable business obligations, and except for someone who has deliberately harmed me with the thought "I can harm him because he will forgive me"].  Except for these two, I fully and finally forgive everyone; may no one be punished because of me.  And just as I forgive everyone, so may You grant me grace in the eyes of others, that they too forgive me absolutely.

The reader forgives anyone who has wronged him, in the hope of both enabling others to be forgiven and to receive Divine grace himself.

          Why is it customary to appease one's fellow man specifically on the eve of Yom Kippur? The simple explanation is that while one should always appease one who has been wronged (see Bava Kama 92a), there is certain urgency before Yom Kippur.  The Tur (606), however, cites Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (45), who explains differently:

Samael [an angel of God, the accuser] sees that there is no sin in them on Yom Kippur.  He says to God: Master of the worlds, you have one people on earth who are like the ministering angels in Heaven. Just as the ministering angels are barefoot, so Israel is barefoot on Yom Kippur; just as the ministering angels neither eat nor drink, so Israel does not eat or drink on Yom Kippur, just as the ministering angels cannot bend, so Israel stands all Yom Kippur; just as with the ministering angels, peace serves as an intermediary between them, so with Israel, peace serves as an intermediary between them on Yom Kippur; just as the ministering angels are free of all sin, so Israel is free of all sin on Yom Kippur.  God hears the testimony of Israel from their accuser and He atones for the altar and for the Temple and for the priests and for the entire congregation.

The Tur explains that on Yom Kippur, there is a special motivation to bring peace among the Jewish People - so that God will reject the arguments of the accuser. 

Immersion on Erev Yom Kippur

The Rishonim (Rosh, Yoma 8:24; Shibbolei Ha-Leket 283; Manhig 52, Tosafot, Berakhot 22b, etc.) cite an ancient custom to immerse in the mikva on Erev Yom Kippur.  Some Rishonim (Shibbolei Ha-Leket and R. Saadia Ga'on, as cited by the Rosh) rule that one should even recite a birkat ha-mitzva (blessing over a commandment) before immersing! The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (606:5) suggests that these Rishonim may understand the command of "You shall be clean before the Lord" (Vayikra 16:30) literally.  Most Rishonim reject this opinion, however, and immersion is performed without a blessing (Shulchan Arukh 606:4). 

The Rosh explains, based upon the Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer cited above, that on Yom Kippur we attempt to emulate the angels; just as they are pure, we similarly become pure.  The precise reason for this immersion, however, remains unclear.  While the Rama (606:4) writes that one immerses to remove the impurity of "keri" (seminal emission), the Magen Avraham (8) cites those who view this immersion as an act of teshuva.  Indeed, R. Akiva (Yoma 85b) draws a comparison between teshuva and mikva.

R. Akiva said: Fortunate are you, Israel! Before Whom do you cleanse yourself? And who cleanses you? Your Father in Heaven!... And it also says: "The mikva of Israel is God." Just as a mikva cleanses the contaminated, so does the Holy One, blessed be He, cleanse Israel.

          The question of whether the goal of this tevila is tahara (purification) or teshuva leads to a number of practical ramifications.  While the Rama writes that one should immerse oneself only once, the Mishna Berura writes that since one immerses for the purpose of teshuva, one should dunk three times! Some (see Be'er Heitev 8) are even accustomed to immerse thirty-nine times! Furthermore, while the Rama writes that one immerses without saying viduy (confession), some are accustomed to recite the viduy while in the mikva.

Viduy and other Prayers of Erev Yom Kippur:

The Talmud (Yoma 87b) teaches that one should recite the viduy BEFORE the meal on Erev Yom Kippur.

The Rabbis taught: The obligation of confession takes effect on the eve of Yom Kippur with the approach of dark.  But the Sages said: One should confess before he eats and drinks, lest he lose his mind at the meal.  And although he confessed before he ate and drank, he should confess again after he eats and drinks, lest something unseemly happens at the meal.

Rashi (s.v. shema) explains that the Sages were concerned lest one become intoxicated, while the Rambam (Hilkhot Teshuva 2:7) writes that they were concerned lest he choke and die before repenting. 

The Rishonim debate whether the second confession is to be recited after the meal, before the onset of Yom Kippur, or on Yom Kippur evening.  The Ran (Rif 6a, s.v.  tanu rabannan) cites the Ramban, who explains that the mitzva is to confess on Erev Yom Kippur before dark. While the Sages were concerned lest one become intoxicated at the meal and therefore instituted a viduy before the meal, they did not replace the confession meant to be recited before nightfall.  Most Rishonim disagree, and the halakha is in accordance with their view; a second viduy is not recited before dark (Shulchan Arukh 607:1).  Some (Magen Avraham 607:7 in the name of the Shelah) suggest reciting another viduy, and explain that the recitation of Tefilla Zakka fulfills the Ran's opinion.  R. Soloveitchik (see Machzor Masoret Ha-Rav Le-Yom Ha-Kippurim, 42) relates that in Khaslavitch, where the Rav grew up, it was customary to recite the viduy before saying the Tefilla Zakka.  The Rav maintained this custom in Boston as well.

The Geonim (see Rosh, Yoma 8:25) discuss whether the viduy recited at Mincha before Yom Kippur should also be recited by the shaliach tzibbur in his repetition.  The Ra'avya (ibid.) suggests that the shaliach tzibbur does not repeat the viduy, as there is nowhere to insert he viduy in the weekday Shemoneh Esrei.  He also suggests that since the viduy is only recited at Mincha lest one become intoxicated or choke at the se'uda ha-mafseket (the final meal before Yom Kippur), it was not incorporated into the chazan's repetition.  Apparently, on Yom Kippur itself, the viduy is an integral part of the day's prayers, and therefore is included in the repetition, while on Erev Yom Kippur, the viduy's relationship with Mincha is coincidental and therefore it is not incorporated into the repetition.  R. Amram Gaon, however, did insist that that the viduy be repeated in order to fulfill that obligation of those who are unable to pray on their own (see Harerei Kedem I, chs. 42-43).

The Mitzva to Eat on Erev Yom Kippur

The Talmud (Yoma 81b, Rosh Hashana 9a, Pesachim 68b, Berakhot 8b) teaches:

R.  Chiyya bar R. Difti taught: It says, "And you shall afflict yourselves on the ninth" (Vayikra 23:32).  Now on the ninth do we fast? Do we not fast on the tenth? Rather this is to tell you that anyone who eats and drinks on the ninth, the Scriptures considers it as if he fasted on the ninth and the tenth.

Indeed, the gemara (Pesachim 68b) even records that "Mar the son of Ravina would sit at all times in fast except for the days of Shavuot, Purim, and Erev Yom Kippur."

The gemara teaches that there is a mitzva to eat on the day before Yom Kippur, and that eating on Erev Yom Kippur and then fasting on Yom Kippur is somehow tantamount to fasting for two days. What function does this mitzva fulfill? How are we to understand the Talmud's equation between eating on the ninth of Tishrei and fasting on Yom Kippur? And does this mitzva somehow reflect the true nature of Yom Kippur?

The Rishonim differ as to how to understand this mitzva.  Some view this obligation as a form of preparation for the fast.  Rashi (Yoma 81b, s.v.  kol), for example, explains:

And the verse says, "And you shall afflict yourself on the ninth," implying - prepare yourself on the ninth in order that you should be able to fast on the tenth.  And since the Torah employed the language of "affliction," it teaches that it is as if one fasted on the ninth.

Rashi understands that one eats on the ninth in order to prepare for Yom Kippur.  For this extra preparation, one receives "credit" as if one fasted on both days.  (Rashi on Berakhot 8b offers a similar interpretation, while he explains differently on Rosh Hashana 9a.)  

          The Rosh (Yoma 8:22) concurs, explaining:

In other words, "prepare yourselves on the ninth, rejuvenate and strengthen yourselves through eating and drinking, in order that you will be able to fast tomorrow." This is in order to demonstrate God's affection for Israel, similar to a person who has a beloved child who must fast for a day; he will give him food and drink the day before the fast in order that he will tolerate [the fast].  Similarly, God does not normally command the Jewish People to fast, except for one day, for their own good, to atone for their sins…

The Rosh understands the mitzva, like Rashi, as a preparation for the fast, but he adds that it demonstrates God's affection for the Jewish People and His will that they should not suffer. 

          Conversely, the Shibbolei Ha-Leket (307) suggests that one who eats "well" on the day before Yom Kippur will experience MORE discomfort on Yom Kippur itself.  Similarly, R. Baruch Ha-Levi Epstein (1860-1941), in his Torah Temima (Vayikra 23, nt.  97), explains:

Based upon what appears in Ta'anit 27b, that the anshei mishmar [the kohanim on duty] in the Temple would not fast on Sunday… and according to one [reason] in order that they should not go from rest and enjoyment [on Shabbat] to discomfort and fasting.  And the commentators explain that a fast which comes after a day of excessive eating and drinking is more difficult and therefore they would not fast then.  Similarly, it is now understood that one who eats and drinks on the ninth, it is as if he fasted for the ninth and the tenth, because the fast on the tenth is harder for him… and therefore the fast on the tenth counts for him for two fasts…

While this opinion fits nicely with the words of the gemara, it is predicated upon an assumption that we will discuss in greater depth next week, namely that "inui" refers literally to physical affliction and that one should maximize one's personal affliction on Yom Kippur.

          Interestingly, the Torah Temima's father, R. Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829-1908), in his Arukh Ha-Shulchan, cites both reasons, insisting that while the fast may be difficult due to excessive eating the day before, one's ability to fast successfully will still be enhanced by eating on Erev Yom Kippur.

If so, we might question the permissibility of ingesting pills before a fast that promise to relieve the discomfort of the fast.  Indeed, the Sedei Chemed (Ma'arechet Yom Ha-Kippurim 10:1) cites a scholar who discouraged engaging in "segulot" (spiritual remedies) intended to ease the fast.  Most poskim (Chelkat Yaakov 2:58; Tzitz Eliezer 7:32; Mishneh Halakhot 2:66) insist that there is no reason to be stringent, especially since the entire intention of this mitzva is to ease the fast the next day according to Rashi.

Rabbeinu Yonah (Sha'arei Teshuva 4:8-10), after citing the view of Rashi and the Rosh, presents an alternate perspective of this mitzva.  He writes:

If a person transgressed a negative commandment and repented, he should be concerned with his sin, and long and wait for the arrival of Yom Kippur in order that God will be appeased… And this is what they meant (Rosh Hashana 9a), that one who eats a special meal on the eve of Yom Kippur it is as if he was commanded to fast on the ninth and tenth and did so, as he demonstrated his joy that the time for atonement has come, and this will be a testimony for his concern for his guilt and his anguish for his sins.

He continues:

Second, on other festive days we eat a meal for the joy of the mitzva… and since the fast is on Yom Kippur, we were commanded to designate a meal for the joy of the mitzva on the day before Yom Kippur.

Interestingly, the Ritva (Rosh Hashana 9a) paraphrases Rabbeinu Yona, explaining that the mitzva to eat on Erev Yom Kippur comes "to demonstrate that his day is holy to our Lord, and it is appropriate to eat sweet foods, like on Rosh Hashana, but the Torah commands us to abstain on this day from physical pleasures in order that we should be like angels, as the midrash says."

          Rabbeinu Yona clearly believes that we are not to view the mitzva to eat on Erev Yom Kippur as a preparation for the fast, but rather as an independent commemoration or celebration of Yom Kippur that was "pushed up" to the day before. 

The Acharonim discuss these two approaches, whether the mitzva is intended as a preparation for the fast of Yom Kippur or as a separate commandment, at great length.  They raise a number of potential differences between these approaches.

R. Akiva Eiger (1761-1837), for example, questions whether women are obligated in this mitzva (Teshuvot R. Akiva Eiger 16).  He was asked to rule regarding an ailing woman who was warned by her doctors not to eat, lest her condition deteriorate. He writes:

God forbid, she should not eat.  And since you say that she is learned, and fears the word of God and will hardly listen to you, my advice is to take a servant or two to tell her that a letter arrived from me [R. Akiva Eiger] prohibiting her from eating anything more that she is accustomed to each day.

He concludes, however, with the following thought:

While this ruling must not be delayed, I am somewhat curious regarding healthy women [as well], whether they are obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, as possibly they may be exempt, as they are exempt from all time-bound commandments… Or possibly since the verse employs the phrase "the ninth of the month," implying that it is as if one fasted on the ninth and the tenth, therefore all who must fast on the tenth, to fulfill "and you shall afflict yourselves," must fast on the ninth… This question requires further though for a less busy time. 

Other Acharonim (Reshash, Sukka 28b, Minchat Chinukh 313) discuss this question as well.

Must one who cannot fast on Yom Kippur eat on Erev Yom Kippur? R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893), the Netziv, in his commentary to R. Achai Gaon's Sheiltot (Ha-Emek She'ela 167:12) supports the understanding that one eats on the ninth in order to prepare one for the fast on the tenth.  Indeed, the text of the She'iltot reads, "One who eats and drinks on the ninth AND FASTS on the tenth, the Scriptures considers it as if he fasted on the ninth and the tenth," implying that one eats on the ninth in order to successfully fast on the tenth. 

If so, the Netziv questions whether one who is confident in his ability to fast must still eat and drink on the ninth. Conversely, must one who is unable to fast on Yom Kippur eat on the ninth?

R.  Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (1815-1871), author of the Ketav Sofer (112), also asks whether one who is unable to fast on Yom Kippur must still fulfill this mitzvah on Erev Yom Kippur. Interestingly, he concludes that an ailing woman who cannot fast on Yom Kippur would certainly not be obligated to eat.  He argues that if the obligation relates to the fast, then she should be exempt, as she will not fast the next day.  And if this halakha constitutes and independent obligation, she should be exempt because it is a time-bound commandment. 

Finally, should one strive to eat a meal with bread on Erev Yom Kippur? It would seem that those who view this mitzva as a preparation for the fast would see no reason to prefer one manner of eating over another.  However, those who view this mitzva as a "se'udat mitzva," or even a "se'udat Yom Tov," might be inclined to prefer a more festive meal made over bread.  Similarly, the Minchat Chinukh (313:9) questions whether there is a minimum amount that one must eat. He concludes, creatively, that since the halakha defines "inui" on Yom Kippur as abstaining from food the size of a date (ka-kotevet), one should similarly eat a minimum of a "date" on Erev Yom Yippur, when one's eating also fulfills the commandment of "inui."         

Traditionally, one partakes of a large festive meal, known as the se-udat ha-mafkeset, after reciting Mincha and the vidui and before the onset of the fast. 

R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook (1865–1935), in his Ein Ayah (38), a commentary on the Aggadic sections of the Talmud, analyzes this mitzva.  He begins by asserting that there are two dimensions of teshuva, both alluded to in verses from the Torah (Devarim 30:1-2, 6):

And it shall come to pass when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have set before you, and you will take it to your heart among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven thee. And you will RETURN unto the Lord your God and hearken to His voice, according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul….  And the Lord your God will CIRCUMCISE YOUR HEART and the heart of your children to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.

If one "returns" to God, then why must God "circumcise his heart" in order to bring about "the love of the Lord your God"?

          R.  Kook explains that sin impacts upon a person in two ways.  First, the person has violated the will of God.  Second, the person has distanced himself from God, decreasing the love and fear of God in his heart.  The process of repentance, therefore, must both correct the sin as well as restore the love and fear of God to one's heart.  These two goals of teshuva are accomplished in different ways.

          The teshuva of restoring one's personal relationship with God can best be achieved without the distractions of the physical world.  However, fixing what one has wronged cannot be fully accomplished while detached from the world; rather, he must be immersed in this world, as the Rabbis teach (Yoma 86b), "What is the definition of a 'ba'al teshuva' (a person who has repented)? R. Yehuda said: One who has the opportunity to do the same sin [implying that circumstances are such that his desire to do the sin is the same] and this time does not do it! He is a ba'al teshuva!" If so, R. Kook claims, "One must be involved in business dealings and in his day to day dealings and [still] act according to the God's Torah and its commandments."

One might therefore claim that through the abstinence of Yom Kippur, by which one restores his personal relationship with God, one does not actually achieve full and complete teshuva.  We thus eat and drink on the day before Yom Kippur, "and are careful in the service of God, placing the fear of God upon us so that we do not stumble with regard to any prohibition, even through eating and drinking, and we therefore engage in active repentance, and only afterwards can we increase our repentance with added sanctity."

This beautiful idea explains why the Talmud equates the ninth and tenth days, as they actually, together, comprise the complete experience of Yom Kippur

Next week, we will begin our discussion of the five afflictions of Yom Kippur.




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