Thursday, September 20, 2007

Great Yom Kippur Torah:

From a Rav Kook website at:

While there are several rabbinically-ordained fasts throughout the year, only one day of fasting is mentioned in the Torah:

"It is a sabbath of sabbaths to you, when you must fast. u must observe this sabbath on the ninth of the month in the evening, from evening until (the next) evening." [Lev. 23:32]

This refers to the fast of Yom Kippur. The verse, however, appears to contain a rather blatant 'mistake': Yom Kippur falls out on the tenth of Tishrei, not the ninth!

The Talmud [Berachot 8b] explains that the day before Yom Kippur is also part of the atonement process, even though there is no fasting: "This teaches that one who eats and drinks on the ninth is credited as if he fasted on both the ninth and tenth."

Still, we need to understand:

  • Why is there a mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur?
  • In what way does this eating count as a day of fasting?

Two Forms of Teshuva

The theme of Yom Kippur is, of course, teshuva - repentance, the soul's return to its natural purity. There are two major aspects to teshuva. The first is the need to restore the spiritual sensitivity of the soul, dulled by over-indulgence in physical pleasures. This refinement is achieved by temporarily rejecting physical enjoyment, and replacing life's hectic pace with prayer and meditation. The Torah gave us one day a year, the fast of Yom Kippur, to concentrate exclusively on refining our spirits and redefining our goals.

However, the aim of Judaism is not asceticism. As Maimonides wrote [Mishneh Torah, Dei'ot 3:1]:

"One might say, since jealousy, lust and arrogance are bad traits, driving a person out of the world, I will go to the opposite extreme. I will not eat meat, nor drink wine, nor marry, nor live in a pleasant house, nor wear nice clothing ... like the idolatrous monks. This is wrong, and it is forbidden to do so. One who follows this path is called a sinner. ... Therefore, the Sages instructed that we should only restrict ourselves from that which the Torah forbids. ... It is improper to constantly fast."

The second aspect of teshuva is more practical and down-to-earth. We need to become accustomed to acting properly, and avoid the pitfalls of material desires that violate the Torah's teachings. This level of teshuva is not attained by fasts and meditation, but by preserving our spiritual integrity while we are involved in worldly matters.

The true goal of Yom Kippur is achieved when we can remain faithful to our spiritual essence while remaining active participants in the material world. When do we accomplish this aspect of teshuva? When we eat on the ninth of Tishrei. Then we demonstrate that, despite our occupation with physical activities, we can remain faithful to the Torah's values and ideals. Thus, our eating on the day before Yom Kippur is connected to our fasting on Yom Kippur itself. Together, these two days correspond to the two corrective aspects of the teshuva process.

By preceding the fast with eating and drinking, we insure that the reflection and spiritual refinement of Yom Kippur are not isolated to that one day, but are connected to the entire year's involvement in the physical world. The inner, meditative teshuva of the tenth of Tishrei is thus complemented by the practical teshuva of the ninth.

[adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p.42]


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