and Practices of Erev Yom Kippur
By Rav David Brofsky
Many customs and laws occupy
us on the day preceding Yom Kippur.
Some are accustomed to visit cemeteries before Yom Kippur (Rama, OC 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 shiur 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
Asking Forgiveness before Yom Kippur
It is customary to ask forgiveness from one's fellow 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)
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
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"
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], [God]
will 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
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 one’s 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
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 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
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
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
R. Akiva said: Fortunate are
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
Viduy and other Prayers of Erev Yom Kippur
The Talmud (Yoma 87b)
teaches that one should recite the viduy BEFORE the meal on Erev
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, for perhaps
something unseemly happened 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 he grew up, it was customary to recite the viduy before saying the
Tefilla Zakka. The Rav
maintained this custom in Boston
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.
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
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 Yona (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.
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
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.
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
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."
partakes of a large festive meal, known as the se’uda ha-mafkeset, after
reciting Mincha and the vidui and before the onset of the fast.
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
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.
"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."
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
beautiful idea explains why the Talmud equates the ninth and tenth days, as they
actually, together, comprise the complete experience of Yom Kippur.