The Mitzvah of Eating before Yom Kippur
By Avi Lazerson
Everyone knows that Yom Kippur is a very holy day, a day that we spend fasting and praying. But how many people realize that the day before Yom Kippur is also a special day? It is a day of happiness and rejoicing and there is a mitzvah to eat. By a mitzvah to eat, we don't mean just a good thing to eat, but actually a mitzvah, a commandment!
How and where? It is in the Torah, as we shall now explain:
When the Torah instructs us to fast, it tells us in a round about manner:
“And G-d spoke to Moses saying. On the tenth of the seventh month is Yom Kippur, a holy convocation for you and you shall afflict yourselves.” (Exodus 23:26-27) and the Torah continues a few verses later: “A Shabbat of Sabbaths it is for you, and you shall afflict your souls in the ninth day of the month in the evening, from the evening until the evening...” (Exodus 23:32)
In the first verse it tells us to afflict ourselves on the tenth of the month yet in the second verse it tells us to afflict ourselves on the ninth of the month. What does this mean? Perhaps we should fast on the ninth and the tenth? It says from the evening, not the entire day. What should we do? Explains Chiya, the son of Rav, from Difty, (Talmud Tractate Yoma 81b) that when it says, “and you shall afflict your souls in the ninth day of the month” does it really mean to fast on the ninth? The fast is on the tenth! Rather the Torah is telling you that all who eat and drink on the ninth, the Torah equates it as if he fasted on the ninth and tenth!
What does it mean that the Torah equates it as if he fasted on the ninth and on the tenth? What do we need this for? G-d has seen fit to give us a mitzvah of eating on the ninth and if we do, He equates it as if we have fasted on this day. This is so we will have strength to fast on the tenth of Tishre, the day of Yom Kippur.
Perhaps what is deeper here is that the point is that we must realize how fortunate we are. Yom Kippur is really a happy day, as it states in the last page of the Talmud Tractate Ta'anit 30b, “there were no days as good for the Jews as the fifteen of Av and Yom Kippur.” Why is Yom Kippur such a happy day? Because on that day G-d forgives the Jews for their sins. Since the Jews toke the concept of sin very seriously, forgiveness means much to them. Hence, we see clearly that the forgiveness granted on Yom Kippur made it a very happy day.
We really should be joyful and eat and drink on Yom Kippur since our sins are being forgiven, but we are just not allowed since the Torah requires us to fast. So instead of eating and drinking on the tenth of Tishre, we eat and drink on the ninth, the day before Yom Kippur, knowing full well that we have full trust in G-d that He will forgive us. In this way we equate the two days, the festive eating and drinking on the ninth with the somber fast on the tenth where we ask G-d to forgive our sins and we are confident that He will.
We Jews must realize that we are very fortunate that our G-d is a kind and loving G-d, a G-d who desires to have a close relation with His chosen people; and we, His chosen people, although we may sin, we desire that close and special relationship to G-d. Fortunately our G-d is kind and merciful and forgives us. It is this confidence in the infinite kindness of G-d that makes us so happy.
Compare this to a person who insults another person. Generally the insulted person will not forgive the person who did the insulting unless that person apologizes and requests forgiveness. Only then most people will forgive. But sometimes the person who is insulted can realize that the person who insulted him was not in his proper frame of mind, that he had difficult times, disturbing events in his life and so a compassionate person would say to those around him that he does not hold that person really responsible for insulting him and he forgives him even with out the person who did the insulting requesting forgiveness. So too, and even more so, is our G-d.
He created us and put us into our particular environment. He knows what difficulties we must deal with and that deep inside of each of us we desire to do good and be close to Him, but the difficult times make it hard on us. He is infinitely wise and compassionate and gives mercy to all who request it from Him.
For us, Yom Kippur is a happy day. We must treat it as a happy day by eating and drinking on the day before and being confident in G-d's loving kindness towards us. All we need is to show regret for our sins and He will accept our petitions.
from the September 2010 High Holyday Edition of the Jewish Magazine