Concerning Yom Kippur

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).

Standing Before God in Awe and Joy

Awe and Joy

With a sense of awe and joy should we approach the days of repentance, the days where we will stand before Hashem our God, in whose hand rests the soul of every living creature, to receive from Him life for the coming year.

Knowing that the blessing God grants us for the New Year is dependent on our actions, we are filled with tremendous awe — for who knows what will be in the end? Maybe, in spite of all the goods deeds we performed – compared to what we should have done, we were negligent in our task. Perhaps we busied ourselves with insignificant matters, while abandoning our main obligations. For behold, the blessing of the New Year is dependent on our actions, and who can be justified before Him in judgment?

Together with this, however, there also exists an inner happiness by way of this renewed, yearly standing before Hashem. It awakens us to repent, and there is no deeper, inner joy than returning and connecting with our pure souls. Thank God that we have merited to reach these days of mercy and forgiveness, where we can stand before Him, contemplating the course of our lives with a broad view, and ask Him to help us reorganize our lives in a more correct and balanced way. Thus, we can also request that He remove our sins and offenses from His sight, so that we can serve Him with a whole heart. This is repentance from love — returning to the good for the sake of good, and not out of a fear of punishment.

We are guaranteed that if we carry out a true self-examination, if we remember all of our good ambitions, and think how we can fulfill them in the coming year, we will merit true repentance which will be accepted before Hashem. Thus, we will also merit a good life in the coming year.

The Day of Crowning God and the Great Prayers

In spite of the fact that the two days of Rosh Hashana are the start of the Ten Days of Repentance, on Rosh Hashana itself, we do not confess our sins; rather, we are engaged in the most basic fundamentals of faith – the Creation of the world, God’s providence over all His creatures, and the prayers calling for the revelation of His kingship in the world, and that all the evil and wicked monarchies should be eliminated like smoke.

Thus, we are elevated through these great prayers that in the coming year more and more Jews will be engrossed in Torah, its’ immense light spreading to all of Israel. We will merit the continuation of the Ingathering of the Exiles, settling of the Land, establishment and enlargement of families, and greater love between people. Our society will be established upon law and justice according to the instructions of the Torah, and we will merit sanctifying God’s name in the eyes of the nations. In light of this, we will continue during the remaining days of the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur to clarify those sins and offenses which require individual repentance and rectification.

Add Life

On Rosh Hashana, God creates life of the New Year, and we pray before our Father in Heaven that He remember us for life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life. Consequently, there is room for each and every Jew to contemplate how he himself can add life in the New Year. How one can learn more Torah, for the Torah is called ‘chayim’, or life. How one can add more charity and kindness which are also called ‘chayim’. How one can add to settling the Land, for the Land of Israel is also called the ‘Land of the Living’. And how one can add to the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying, which, to a certain extent, is the mitzvah which best expresses man’s partnership in the addition of life in the world.

Standing Before God in Awe and Joy

Awe and Joy

With a sense of awe and joy should we approach the days of repentance, the days where we will stand before Hashem our God, in whose hand rests the soul of every living creature, to receive from Him life for the coming year.

Knowing that the blessing God grants us for the New Year is dependent on our actions, we are filled with tremendous awe — for who knows what will be in the end? Maybe, in spite of all the goods deeds we performed – compared to what we should have done, we were negligent in our task. Perhaps we busied ourselves with insignificant matters, while abandoning our main obligations. For behold, the blessing of the New Year is dependent on our actions, and who can be justified before Him in judgment?

Together with this, however, there also exists an inner happiness by way of this renewed, yearly standing before Hashem. It awakens us to repent, and there is no deeper, inner joy than returning and connecting with our pure souls. Thank God that we have merited to reach these days of mercy and forgiveness, where we can stand before Him, contemplating the course of our lives with a broad view, and ask Him to help us reorganize our lives in a more correct and balanced way. Thus, we can also request that He remove our sins and offenses from His sight, so that we can serve Him with a whole heart. This is repentance from love — returning to the good for the sake of good, and not out of a fear of punishment.

We are guaranteed that if we carry out a true self-examination, if we remember all of our good ambitions, and think how we can fulfill them in the coming year, we will merit true repentance which will be accepted before Hashem. Thus, we will also merit a good life in the coming year.

The Day of Crowning God and the Great Prayers

In spite of the fact that the two days of Rosh Hashana are the start of the Ten Days of Repentance, on Rosh Hashana itself, we do not confess our sins; rather, we are engaged in the most basic fundamentals of faith – the Creation of the world, God’s providence over all His creatures, and the prayers calling for the revelation of His kingship in the world, and that all the evil and wicked monarchies should be eliminated like smoke.

Thus, we are elevated through these great prayers that in the coming year more and more Jews will be engrossed in Torah, its’ immense light spreading to all of Israel. We will merit the continuation of the Ingathering of the Exiles, settling of the Land, establishment and enlargement of families, and greater love between people. Our society will be established upon law and justice according to the instructions of the Torah, and we will merit sanctifying God’s name in the eyes of the nations. In light of this, we will continue during the remaining days of the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur to clarify those sins and offenses which require individual repentance and rectification.

Add Life

On Rosh Hashana, God creates life of the New Year, and we pray before our Father in Heaven that He remember us for life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life. Consequently, there is room for each and every Jew to contemplate how he himself can add life in the New Year. How one can learn more Torah, for the Torah is called ‘chayim’, or life. How one can add more charity and kindness which are also called ‘chayim’. How one can add to settling the Land, for the Land of Israel is also called the ‘Land of the Living’. And how one can add to the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying, which, to a certain extent, is the mitzvah which best expresses man’s partnership in the addition of life in the world.