Why is eating before Yom Kippur so significant? What kind of preparation for the day of judgment, the day of atonement for our sins, is feasting and “digging in” all day?
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
It is well known that Jews do not eat or drink on Yom Kippur. Indeed, it’s the most well-known aspect of the day (though there are four other restrictions as well, but that’s for a different article).
What isn’t as well known, however, is that there is an obligation to eat on the day before Yom Kippur. That’s right. An outright obligation to eat. It is not merely good advice, but a mitzvah (commandment). And the more you can eat, the more reward you get! As it says in rabbinic literature: “All who eat on the day before Yom Kippur are considered as if they had fasted on both the ninth and tenth of the month of Tishrei.” (Yom Kippur is on the tenth of Tishrei.)
The question is asked: Why is eating before Yom Kippur so significant? What kind of preparation for the day of judgment, the day of atonement for our sins, is feasting and “digging in” all day? One would think that a more restrained and solemn activity would be fitting for our Yom Kippur preparation.
It is explained that indulging in eating is indeed part of the repentance process. The Talmud teaches that according to the rules of repentance, if one is tempted to repeat a sin, he should distance himself from the situation or environment that might cause him to re-commit the sin.
An example cited to illustrate the point is the story of Adam and Eve. They were commanded not to eat a certain fruit, but they did. They sinned. As such, The first sin ever committed was one related to eating. As such, the day before Yom Kippur was designated as the day to rectify this sin by eating in abundance.
But there is a bit of a catch. The eating in abundance is only a mitzvah if one eats with the intention to serve God, to prepare for Yom Kippur, and to rectify the sin of Adam and Eve and, by extension, all the sins we may have committed through food. One who thinks about God, Yom Kippur, rectifying the sin of Adam and Eve, preparing for the holy day, is truly repenting and doing a mitzvah with every bite! A perfect pre-Yom Kippur activity!
We learn from here that serving God and even repenting for our sins need not always be restrictive or painful. Engaging in even the most materialistic and fun activities, but for the sake of God, is also a part of our service to Him. Let us take this idea with us all year long and infuse even our mundane activities with holiness by doing everything the way God would want – with honesty, commitment, and concern for our fellow man.
Whether it is at the office, in the home or in the synagogue, we can find ways to serve God 24/7 by infusing all our activities with meaning and significance. May we all merit to be sealed for a year full of blessings.