Naaleh.com presents this special post from Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg about the mitzvah of eating before the fast of Yom Kippur. Visit Naaleh.com for FREE video and audio classes by Rabbi Ginsburg as well as many other esteemed Torah teachers.
There is a mitzvah d’oraisa to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. I wanted to discuss several approaches of the Rishonim and Achronim to this mitzvah. Rabbeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva (Shaar Daled, 8-10) presents three reasons for this mitzvah d’oraisa of eating on Erev Yom Kippur.
The first reason is to show that we are b’simcha that the day on which our aveiros are forgiven has finally arrived. Every Jew knows it is not good to do averios and it is not good to miss out on doing mitzvos. So, we should be b’simcha when we have this wonderful opportunity to wipe the slate clean from the many mistakes we made this past year. Therefore, to express this simcha we have a seudah.
Rav Nevenzahl shl”ita[i] adds to this point. He says if a person expresses simcha when he is able to wipe the slate clean and that is his intention as he is eating his seudah, then that will lead a person to refrain from doing chataim in the future. If I am happy when I am finally free from the mistakes, then I want to get used to this simcha and it trains me to avoid chataim in the future. This angle of the Shaarei Teshuva can help prevent us from doing chataim in the future.
A second reason which the Shaarei Teshuva explains is that it is in order to strengthen ourselves for the upcoming tzom. Hashem wants us to have the strength to be able to fast and daven well on Yom Kippur. Rav Nevenzahl points out that Rabbeinu Yonah also mentions that we should have strength to be able to ‘think about ways of doing teshuva.’ We are supposed to really work at doing teshuva. We need to think about what we can do to avoid doing chataim in the future. We want our minds to be as clear as possible on Yom Kippur. Rabbeinu Yonah is saying we are eating so we can fast, daven, and have the strength to really think about our lives and ways to serve Hashem better. We are eating in order to have more clarity of thought on the day of Yom Kippur itself.
A third pshat Rabbeinu Yonah brings is that we have a seudah to express the simcha of the mitzvos of Yom Kippur. A Jew is supposed to do mitzvos b’simcha. A Jew is supposed to be happy on every Yom Tov. Rabbeinu Yonah quotes the posuk “tachas asher lo avadta es Hashem Elokecha b’simcha u’vituv leivav.” We are about to have the mitzvah of Yom Kippur so we are happy. Therefore, there is a chiyuv seudah. But, we can not eat a seudah on Yom Kippur because of the ta’anis, so we have the seudah before, on Erev Yom Kippur.
Rav Nevenzahl adds several other angles as well. The first approach is based on one opinion in the medrash. There is a machlokes regarding when exactly the Akeidas Yitzchak occurred. Most opinions say it was on Rosh Hashana, but Rav Nevenzahl points out that some opinions say it happened on Yom Kippur. The Kli Yakar (Vayikra Perek 16) quotes this opinion from Chazal and other sources as well. Assuming the Akeidah was on Yom Kippur, the day before was Erev Yom Kippur. Rav Nevnezahl writes that Avraham Avinu was trying to be medakdek to fulfill all the Halachos of the Korbonos for his son Yitzchak. There is a halacha quoted in the Gemara (Menachos 64) and Rambam (Hilchos Shgagos Perek 2) that one is supposed to fatten up the korban. It is considered greater Kavod to Hashem to offer a more substantial Korbon. Therefore, Avraham Avinu was feeding Yitzchak so that he should be a Korbon that is more mehudar and more beautiful in the eyes of Hashem. Therefore, as a zecher to that eating we have a mitzvah to eat today.
Also, that eating was completely l’shem shamayim. As we eat the Seudah Mafsekes, we should be focusing on our eating being l’shem shamayim like Yitzchak’s was. This is a fourth angle on the mitzvah to eat today.
A fifth idea, Rav Nevenzahl develops[ii], is as follows. Part of the teshuva process and the growth process is to try to dedicate our gashmiyus actions to be keilim for Avodas Hashem. Not only when we are learning and davening, but even when we are doing gashmiyus things, our focus should be our Avodas Hashem. So at this point, after a month of Elul, Selichos, Rosh Hashana, Aseres Yemei Teshuva, and Tzom Gedalya, b’ezras Hashem we have reached a high level. So we should use this time to train ourselves to engage in physical activities l’shem shamayim. What better way to do that than to eat on Erev Yom Kippur and to have in mind that it is a mitzvah. So, the mitzvah of eating on Erev Yom Kippur should train us that all of our gashymius activities can and should be part of our avodas Hashem. It should be a lesson that just like we are eating now totally l’shem shamayim at one of the highest levels we can reach, we should take this experience of eating as a mitzvah and let it spread to the rest of our life of Avodas Hashem.
A sixth and final point Rav Nevenzhal writes is as follows. The mitzvah of eating Erev Yom Kippur teaches and reminds us of the great love that Hashem has for Am Yisroel. Hashem wants us to be successful in our din and helps us in everyway possible to have a good judgement. How does this mitzvah teach us this?
Because all of us would be eating anyway, even if there would not be a mitzvah, in order to be able to fast. Hashem is taking an activity we all would have done anyway, eating, and makes it a mitzvah! Hashem is literally giving us a mitzvah on a silver (dinner) platter. What a beautiful expression of Hashem’s love for Am Yisroel! All we have to do is have kavana that we are eating for a mitzvah. As the end of our preparation for Yom Kippur is approaching, Hashem is handing us a mitzvah. We have to remember this and think about it, and we have to know Hashem loves us and wants our teshuva.
There is an additional lesson for us. Hashem loves us. Therefore, we have to know that if we take a small step forwards to do teshuva, Hashem will give us extra help to complete the process. ‘Haba letaher mesa’ayin oso’, whoever comes to purufy himself receives help from shamayim.
All of us should do our best to think about these ideas as we are eating our seudah and make it a ruchinyus activity. And with that mitzvah helping us prepare for Yom Kippur, we all should be zocheh to a g’mar chasima tova.
[i]Sichos L’Yom Kippur 189-196
[ii]Rav Nevenzahl points out that the Chasam Sofer developed a similar idea.