The Reason for the Commandment to Eat on Yom Kippur Eve
It is a Mitzvah to eat on the eve of Yom Kippur and to increase the amount one normally consumes (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 604:1). Seemingly, it would appear to be more appropriate to fill oneself with fear and trembling than food. What reason could there be for joyful eating and drinking at such a time?
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero explains that we rejoice in anticipation of fulfilling the commandment of repentance on Yom Kippur, for it is fitting that we rejoice greatly in our fulfillment of each and every Torah commandment. All the more so when it comes to such an important commandment as repentance. But because repentance, by its very nature involves grief, regret, confession, and a firm resolution to improve, it is impossible, while involved in the act of repentance, to rejoice openly. Therefore, the Torah commands us to express joy through food and drink before Yom Kippur and, in this spirit, to enter this sacred day – a day wherein God has paved the way for us to return to Him in repentance.
The Certainty that God Will Judge us favorably
In preparation for Rosh Hashanah we shave, dress in holiday clothes, eat, and drink. On Yom Kippur also, we dress in white attire, and finish off the day joyfully, confident that the Almighty will judge us favorably. Indeed, the Sages teach: “Is there any nation as wonderful as this one, who knows the ways of its God? It is customary that a person who stands to be put on trial, out of great anxiety lest he be sentenced to death, dresses in black clothing, grows his beard, and does not cut his fingernails. But Israel is different; they dress in white, shave, cut their fingernails, and eat and drink, for they know that God will perform a miracle for them and acquit them of their sentence. (See Tur, Orach Chaim 581)
Question: Nevertheless, don’t we see how every year so many Jewish souls are lost, some of them even after great suffering? Why, then, should we be so joyous at the close of Yom Kippur?
Answer: The true judgment on the Day of Atonement is regarding the real life – the life which depends upon our relation with the Almighty. And one who does not repent during the Days of Awe after having been sentenced to death is doomed to a death of ruin filled with suffering and deep sorrow. Yet, one who completed the Days of Awe as he should have can be certain that he merited coming closer to the Almighty, and even if, Heaven forbid, he was judged unfavorably above, this too is for the best, for it serves to rectify and prepare him for life in the World to Come. Therefore, it is only fitting that we be happy on this occasion (based on the Shlah, Rosh HaShanah, Torah Or, 17).
Some Laws of Yom Kippur
The Yom Kippur fast is Biblical in origin (Leviticus 23:27), and therefore its laws are more severe than those of other fasts. For example, on Tisha B’Av, the sick are exempt from fasting, while on the Day of Atonement they are not. A person who might possibly die as a result of the fast is exempt from fasting, for the preservation of life overrides the commandment to fast.
All the same, if it is possible to avoid the danger by eating and drinking small amounts of food and liquids at intervals, one must do this. In this manner he will not be considered to have broken the fast completely. As far as drinking is concerned, this means consuming less than a “melo-lugmav” every nine minutes. “melo-lugmav” is the amount of liquid which fills the mouth when one check is inflated – each according to the size of his mouth (the average amount for an adult is approximately 45 millimeters). Concerning eating, one should eat less than a “kotevet” – the volume of a large date – every nine minutes. A “kotevet” is equal to the volume of two-thirds of an ordinary sized egg. If one figures this according to the weight of water, it comes out about thirty grams. However, it should be measured according to volume.
If one needs to eat or drink more than this, he should shorten the intervals to every seven or eight minutes, and if this is not sufficient, the intervals should be reduced to four minutes, for there are rabbinical opinions that the necessary minimum interval for food consumption is only four minutes. As far as drinking is concerned, if an interval of four minutes is still not enough, one should drink less than a “melo lugmav” every minute. This is due to the fact that there are opinions that laws applying to drinking differ from those of eating.
Ask an Observant Doctor
A person who is ill but is uncertain as to whether or not his illness falls into the category of being life-threatening, must ask a religious doctor before Yom Kippur about his health status. A doctor who is not an observant Jew cannot grasp the importance of the fast and tends to tell all of his patients that they are in a life-threatening situation. Therefore, one cannot rely purely upon such a doctor’s opinion, but must find a religious doctor and get his opinion. Only in a situation where there in no choice – e.g., the fast arrived before one had a chance to consult with an observant doctor – and one received advice from a non-religious doctor to the effect that it is permissible to eat and drink, may one do so (according to the above-mentioned instructions, for this is considered a possible life-threatening situation).