Yom Kippur Thoughts

Erev Yom Kippur Food

We know that there is a mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. What is this about? Three important questions are, a) does the mitzvah apply at night or just the day of Erev Yom Kippur and b) what if someone is sick or unable to fast, does it still apply? C) Is the mitzvah to eat or does it include drinking as well?

Looking at the 4 answers below it would seem the answers would vary based on the reasoning.

The mitzvah to eat is explained as follows:
1) To gather strength and energy for the fast and repentance
2) It is a sign that we are rejoicing for the coming day of atonement
3) It is to make up for the fact that really Yom Kippur is a yom tov and we should have a meal then, but we must fast and so we make up the meal the day before.
4) To show us how to be enthusiastic about Yom Kippur. Just as we are excited to do the mitzvah of eating, so too, we should be just as excited to fulfill Hashem’s will in fasting on Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur: Ultimate Cleaning Agent

“We have strayed away from Your (Hashem’s) worthwhile commandments and have gained no benefit from our sins” (Text of Selichos and Yom Kippur Confession).

Yom Kippur is known as a fast day intended for repentance and personal introspection. However, in truth it is much more than that. There is a significant historical event that changed the course of the world that happened on Yom Kippur. When Moshe came down from Har Sinai with the luchos, tablets, it was the the 17th of Tamuz. Upon seeing that the Jews had served the Golden Calf, he smashed the luchos which they no longer merited to receive. He then ground up the Calf and many Jews died that day from the terrible sin. Moshe then went right back up the mountain for another forty days to beseech Hashem not to destroy the Jewish people. At the end of that time period, Hashem commanded Moshe to ascend the mountain once again in order to receive the second set of luchos. Moshe spend the next forty days, starting from the first day of Elul, in heaven, receiving the Torah once again. On the fortieth day, he descended and presented the Jews with the second and final set of luchos. That day was none other than Yom Kippur.

Why Then?

Nothing is a coincidence, so why was Yom Kippur, the great day of repentance, chosen to be the day upon which the Jews received the Torah?! What is the connection between the two concepts of teshuvah and Torah? The answer to this quandary is most relevant and sheds light on the power and mechanics of the entire day of repentance. We stand before Hashem on Yom Kippur begging Him to forgive us for our terrible sins. However, this is not the regular request for inequity. Yes, we acknowledge that we rebelled against Him and yes we strayed after our heart’s desires. But it is much more than that.

Hashem set up the entire world for one purpose. To allow us to earn the ultimate pleasure and reward. Thus, we are not just begging for Hashem to spare us from punishment due to our sins. Rather, we are crying because our sins have hurt us, to the core. They have stopped us from reaching our potential and from gaining joy and success. Our entire happiness and fulfillment depends on our closeness to Hashem. Thus, in essence, we are not asking only for forgiveness, rather, we are crying about the distance which we created between us and Hashem, the Ultimate Good, through our actions.


Imagine that a king made two rules punishable by death, stating that one is not allowed to eat candy and one is not allowed to amputate his hand. Two people went and transgressed the law, one ate candy and the other amputated his own arm; now they are both on trial. The procession would sound different for each of them. The man who ate candy will cry to the king, stating that he begs forgiveness! But the one who amputated his own arm will cry to the king in a much more powerful way. He will state that he truly sees how foolish his act was and he begs the king to forgive him and to help him find a doctor who can heal what he did so foolishly!

When we stand before Hashem on Yom Kippur, we are the second man. We do not just beg for forgiveness. Rather, we come to the deep and painful recognition that all of our sins were not worth it. We were amputating our own arms! Hashem gave us Torah and mitzvos in order that we can achieve happiness and success and our sins destroyed that opportunity. Now we beg Hashem to help us get back on our feet and get close to Him! The King surely will be moved by our sincere plea and grant us that request.

Textual Support

This idea is so eloquently expressed in the text of the Vidoy, “We have strayed from your wonderful mitzvos and it wasn’t worth it.” Our sins cause us pain and suffering! That is the essence of Yom Kippur. Throughout the year, many sins are committed, sometimes even terrible ones as well. There are some sins that are very severe and hard to get forgiveness for. However, through the learning of Torah, one can achieve forgiveness. If one hurt his friend he must ask forgiveness. For sins between man and God the Seforim state that there is no sin that limud haTorah cannot help bring about forgiveness for! The reason is because Torah is the wisdom of Hashem and one who learns is connecting to and bonding with Hashem through true love and depth. A sin is dirt, it is a foolish act of self-destruction. The best way to remove the dirt is with a powerful cleaning agent. Torah is the ultimate cleaning agent. Torah is the exact antithesis of sin. Sin is foolishness and distance from Hashem; Torah is enlightenment and closeness to Hashem.

Most Appropriate Day

Thus, it is most apropos that Moshe came down with the luchos specifically on Yom Kippur! This is the day of connecting to Hashem in the most intimate way. This is through embracing His Torah, to come to the realization that His words of Wisdom are the only path for true happiness and enjoyment.

Five Afflictions

The Seforim state that the five shmoneh esrei prayers (maariv, shachris, mussaf, mincha and neilah) recited by us on Yom Kippur, correspond to the five enoyim, prohibited acts of the day (No eating/drinking, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations). How do we even begin to understand this bizarre connection? I believe that our above stated thesis explains it beautifully. The five prohibited acts are outlawed on this day in order to help us utilize it properly. They represent the full gamut of human distractions. Hashem wants us to put aside all of our human wants and instead use the day connecting to holiness and spirituality. Hence, the five selfish pleasures are replaced by five beautiful prayers where the ultimate unity and connection to Hashem is created. May we taste this sweetness and feel the value of closeness with Hashem this Yom Kippur and may these feelings and recognitions carry us through the year!

Yom Kippur: Internal Integrity

I have often thought about the seemingly disproportionate concentration which we put on Nedarim, vows, at this time of the year. We prepare for Rosh Hashana by doing Hataras Nedarim, annulling our vows with a dramatic presence of a three-man court. On Yom Kippur’s holiest night of the year, when we are as pure as angels, we begin with the heart-wrenching rendition of the emotional words: “Kol Nidrey…, all of my vows are null and void….” If that is not enough, we say it three times, with each repetition getting louder and stronger… what does this mean?

Every Sunday (Shir Shel Yom) and weekday throughout the year when we return the Torah to the ark, we recite powerful words from Tehillim (Chapter 24). There we say: Who can ascend heights before Hashem and be blessed with prosperity? One who does not swear falsely…” This seems highly anti-climactic! I was expecting it to say, “someone that serves Hashem with all of his heart and soul…”!
The Gemara (end of Sukkah) warns that we must be careful what we promise a child, for if we don’t keep our word, this can be of utmost damage to him. What does this mean?

Man is intrinsically honest. Hashem created us with an innate desire to do good and the ability to find joy and fulfillment in doing what is right. This does not mean that we don’t have distracting lures that pull us away from the ideal. Just as a serious dieter finds joy in exercising self-control and losing weight, yet is faced with pitfalls and temporal distractions as well. They come in the form of cookies, ice cream and other fattening foods. The challenge of life is to hold strong to our ideals despite the blurring distractions around us.

A child knows only truth; if we promise him or her something and do not deliver, we have introduced a new phenomenon in his or her life… we have shattered their world of pure and innocent truth. This can be most traumatic and damaging. The pure essence of a person is truth and commitment to what is right. We as adults sometimes forget this.

The above quoted verse (Tehillim 24) is explain by Chazal (Niddah 30b) to be referring to your soul before you were born. Your Neshama was shown the Tzaddikim, righteous people, in Gan Eden and the Resha’im, sinners, in purgatory. You were then told to take a vow that you will utilize your time on earth to pursue perfection and truth. This vow is the most important and serious one of our life. Indeed, when Chazal (Nedarim 8a) want to express our collective commitment to Hashem as a Nation, they use the words, “they took a vow at Mount Sinai (to upkeep the entire Torah)”!

The stress here is to recognize the importance of our commitments and vows. We have promised to follow Hashem and to pursue perfection. True, throughout the year, we had times that we got distracted and perhaps this caused sins. However, we now stand at the beginning of the year and wish to express to Hashem justification to keep us alive and to grant us a healthy and successful year. The most important thing is to articulate before Him that yes, I do take my vows seriously. Look, I am making statements that show my concern for the times throughout the year that I was lax in following through…

Throughout Chazal we find horrible punishments for one that does not upkeep his vows or swears falsely. This always bothered me as to why it is so severe? The answer is because the fulfillment of one’s word is the expression of his personal integrity and essence of trustworthiness, and that is something real serious.

We spend Yom Kippur fasting and abstaining from human comforts, the day is thus focused inward in contemplation as there are no external stimuli. The purpose is for us to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim, the inner sanctuary of one’s heart, once a year and to make contact with our inner yearning and depth. We stand before Hashem and declare, “I take my vows seriously, I want to dedicate more time this year getting close to You and fulfilling my vow to be a Tzaddik, please grant me a meaningful year; I will use it for Your service, I promise….”

The Fight for Right

When examining the story of Yonah, read at Mincha of Yom Kippur, there is something quite strange. Yonah tries to run away from Hashem so as not to be forced to deliver his prophecy to Ninvei. As he sits on the ship, Hashem sends a ferocious storm to assault only his ship, threatening to destroy everyone on board. They draw lots which clearly points to Yonah. He promptly gets up, makes a passionate declaration about Judaism and how Hashem is the only true G-d and He has brought this upon Yonah and the only solution is for him to exit the boat. The sailors are so awe-inspired that they immediately circumcise themselves and convert!

Next, they ask Yonah, their newfound leader, what to do. He tells them to throw him off board. This is very odd, here everyone is so clear on what and why this is happening, Yonah himself knows there is only one solution, so why does he not just jump off the boat himself, why does he need to be thrown off by them? An interesting observation… I’m sure each person has their own thoughts….

Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman zt”l (1900 – 1987) states a thought-provoking principle: “The truth can be blatant, clear and defined, but it’s still so hard to carry out. Yonah understood what he had to do, but he knew that he wasn’t able to carry it out, and so he locked himself into it by commanding them to make him carry it out…”

We often know the difference between right and wrong, yet have trouble taking those next steps. We must learn from Yonah and lock ourselves into compliance by taking advantage of others around us to have them force us to fulfill our obligations. This is not a cop-out, rather, it is a noble behavior that will help you do what you know in your head to be right.

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