Thursday, September 20, 2007

Yom Kippur 5641

It is a mitzvah to eat and drink on the day before Yom Kippur in preparation for the fast. Chazal also learn from the pesukim that we are required to begin fasting while it is still daytime. In the language of Chazal "מוסיפין מחול על הקודש/We add to the holy from the profane." The Torah and Chazal impart significance to the day before Yom Kippur. It is important, on the one hand to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. It is so important, in fact, that Chazal consider one who eats on Erev Yom Kippur, as if he fasted on that day as well. On the other hand, it is also important to actually begin fasting on Erev Yom Kippur. What is the relationship between Erev Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is a day which enables us to come as close to God as a physical being can. The laws of Yom Kippur, which require us to abstain from physical pleasure are designed so that we may enact a next-world spiritual experience. The less physical and the more spiritual we are, the closer we can come to God. The reason for this is that closeness to God entails breaking any barriers that separate us from Him. Our physical bodies and needs are major barriers that keep us from coming close to God.

This is why the ultimate coming close to God occurs after our soul leaves the physical body. Then, there is a complete nullification of the self to God. God, as it were, completely engulfs us. The prophet Yirmiyahu hinted at this concept when he said, “'מקוה ישראל ה/God is the hope of Israel.” The word for hope – מקוה, also means a mikveh – a purifying bath. According to Chazal, the prophet is teaching us that just as a mikveh purifies, so too, God purifies. And just as a mikveh purifies only when a person immerses his entire body in the waters, so too, God purifies only when a person nullifies himself completely to God. This happens when a person’s soul is no longer bound by his physical body. Minimizing bodily pleasures on Yom Kippur, therefore, enables us to come close to God.

Since the greatest bliss we can experience is coming close to God, Yom Kippur is a day of joy. Our physicality, though, prevents us from fully experiencing the joy of connecting with God. To reach a state of joy from which we can enter Yom Kippur, the Torah commands us to eat and drink on Erev Yom Kippur. Rabbeinu Yonah in Sha’arei Teshuvah, in fact, makes this very point. He says that since we cannot experience joy on Yom Kippur, we have a mitzvah to be joyful on Erev Yom Kippur through eating and drinking.

Even from a state of joy, though, we do not enter Yom Kippur directly. Our state of joy allows us to first experience the aura of Yom Kippur which “spills over,” so to speak, onto the moments directly preceding and following the day itself. We, therefore abstain from food and drink and other physical pleasures during the moments preceding Yom Kippur. From the experience of connecting with the aura of the moments preceding Yom Kippur from within the state of joy we are in, we can connect with the enlightenment of Yom Kippur itself. This, then, explains the relationship between Erev Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur.

In order to properly experience Yom Kippur, therefore, it is important, to eat and drink on Erev Yom Kippur with intent to reach a state of joy. From within this state we can nullify ourselves to God and experience in some sense a glimpse of the next world.

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