By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Hashem, in His infinite kindness, has given us a gift in the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. How so? Not everyone, unfortunately, merited to receive a judgment on Rosh Hashanah. Some people have their spiritual report card pushed off. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that the beinonim, the average people, are judged during these ten days of bein keseh l’asor. If the average person successfully repents, then they are inscribed with the tzaddikim in the Book of Life. Indeed, even the reshaim, although they are written down negatively, it is not sealed until Yom Kippur, and that fate can be changed. The gift is that everyone receives a second chance.
The phrase bein keseh l’asor is used to refer to the days between Rosh Hashanah, when the moon is covered, to the tenth of the month, Yom Kippur. These ten days give all people the opportunity to make amends and correct their sins. Hashem comes closer to us and makes it easier to make those changes. The Talmud (Yevamos) understands the verse, “Dirshu Hashem Behimatzo—seek Hashem where He may be found” (Yishayahu 55:6) as referring to the Ten Days of Repentance.
We find that these ten days have significance in other places too. Chazal also tell us that Hashem did not immediately punish Naval, the first husband of Avigayil, for the sins he committed against Dovid HaMelech, and for his tremendous inhospitality. Naval deserved immediate punishment for this mistreatment, but Hashem did not inflict it then. Rather, Hashem gave Naval the opportunity to do teshuvah during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. We see here the enormous power that these ten days possess.
The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni tells us that the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah incorporated the ten verses of malchios, zichronos, and shofros in the Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah to correspond to the ten days of teshuvah—this is how important these days are.
The Shla explains that each day of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah is progressively more and more urgent. Action should be taken in both areas of mitzvos bein adam l’makom and bein adam l’chaveiro and all three tools should be utilized—teshuvah, tzedakah, and tefillah.
There are seven days that are in between the two days of Rosh Hashanah and the one day of Yom Kippur. The Seforim HaKedoshim explain that during each of these seven days of the week, it is possible to do teshuvah for every Sunday that we sinned throughout the year on that corresponding day of the seven days. So on Tuesday of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, we can atone for every Tuesday in that year.
The nation of Israel was given a special role in Hashem’s master plan for the world. Up until now, we have only partially fulfilled this plan of being a nation of priests, bringing knowledge of Hashem to the world. Indeed, the davening on Rosh Hashanah emphasized the hope and dream when all the nations would form one agudah to do His Will. The Torah commands us to make sure that we not forget this special role and even provided us with special mitzvos to make sure that our role not be lost. The Mishnah in tractate Avodah Zarah tells us that the rabbis forbade a number of items that were made or owned by the surrounding gentiles. Their concern was the possibility of intermarriage and of losing the special destiny that G‑d has planned for us. One of the items mentioned in the Mishnah is bread produced by gentiles.
During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah it is our custom not to eat what is called “pas palter—baker’s bread.” This refers to bread or flour items that were baked under non-Jewish ownership. Regular kosher bread, cakes, pretzels, cookies, and ice cream sandwiches are not to be eaten during this time. It may only be eaten if the words “pas Yisrael” appear on the supervision.
There are a few reasons for this stringency. One reason, according to the Tur, is that during these days we try to fulfill all our mitzvos, both Torah and rabbinic mitzvos, in the most pure and ideal manner possible. How is pas Yisrael more ideal? In the past, the sages forbade us from eating all bread and mezonos items that were baked by non-Jews. However, this prohibition was partially repealed by the rabbis because the majority of our people were unable to adhere to this stricter ruling. However, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah (and according to the Mishnah Berurah on Shabbos too) we avoid eating pas palter.
Another reason for this stringency, according to the Levush, is to serve as a reminder of how unique these days are. A third reason, according to the Chayei Adam, is that we are asking Hashem not to be strict according to the law. Just as we are doing something extra that is not strictly required of us, we ask Hashem not to be strict with us.
Tefillos And Additions
We must take enormous care to make sure that we add the appropriate additions to the tefillos during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. One such addition is in Shemoneh Esreih we say Oseh hashalom bimromav instead of Oseh shalom bimromav. The Arizal explains that HaShalom in gematria is equivalent to the name of the angel in charge of inscribing, “Safriel.”
During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah we try to be stringent regarding other mitzvos too. Some people try to purchase their lulavim and esrogim during this time in order to get more mitzvos. The sefarim say that if someone is not careful to eat glatt kosher all year round, but just regular kosher, he or she should keep glatt kosher. For this reason, it would also be appropriate to be stringent in chalav Yisrael during this time, if it is possible. It is not worthwhile, however, to cause a machlokes over a chumrah.
The Shabbos before Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shuvah. The haftorah for this Shabbos is “Shuva Yisrael.” It is the minhag for the rav of the community to give a special derashah. The Midrash tells us that when the rav sits and teaches Torah, Hashem forgives his people.
Erev Yom Kippur
Erev Yom Kippur is a yom tov, one where we show happiness and appreciation that Hashem has given us a second chance and for the concept of teshuvah. There is a special mitzvah to eat on this day. The Mishnah Berurah cites the Mogen Avraham that eating on Erev Yom Kippur is a Torah mitzvah. The custom is to eat two seudos. Many poskim hold that women are also biblically obligated in this mitzvah. The seudos should be like the seudos that we serve on Shabbos.
There is a custom in Klal Yisrael to do kapparos on the day before Yom Kippur. A rooster is taken for a man and a hen is taken for a woman. If a woman is expecting (b’sha’ah tovah umutzlachas), the custom is to take a rooster and a hen. As was done for the korbanos, one should have in mind that what is being done to the chicken is really what we deserve, except that Hashem forgives us entirely when teshuvah is done. After the chicken is shechted it should be given to the poor.
There are some authorities that question whether kapparos should be done at all, and suggest that the original source of this custom did not come from Torah sources. In order to fulfill this other opinion, some people use money instead of chickens for kapparos.
Many have the custom to immerse in a mikvah on Erev Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur, of course, does not atone for sins between man and his fellow man until the other party is approached by the offender. If the issue is a monetary one, then forgiveness does not occur until the money is repaid. If someone stole from the public, then one must do tzarchei rabbim—meeting the needs of the public.
There is a debate among the Achronim whether ideally one should personally ask forgiveness or whether a messenger should be sent. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should approach the other party by oneself. He further writes that if this is difficult or if it would be more effective if a third party is sent, then one should send the third party.
Adding To Yom Kippur
It is a Torah mitzvah to add on to the day of Yom Kippur, both before it and after it. Women are also obligated in this mitzvah.
During the Minchah Shemoneh Esreih of Erev Yom Kippur there is a mitzvah of vidui—confessing one’s sins. The custom is to daven Minchah prior to the eating of the Seudah HaMafsekes, the final seudah before Yom Kippur begins. Women should also daven Minchah before this meal and should recite the vidui at Minchah.
The opinion of the Ramban is that another vidui should be recited after the meal as well and before Yom Kippur. The Mishnah Berurah advises that we be stringent and follow this view. Men say the Tefilas Zakah, while women could recite an Ashamnu before Yom Kippur.
The table should be covered with a tablecloth, just like on Shabbos and on yom tov. Yom tov candles are lit for Yom Kippur just like on other yomim tovim. In addition to this every family should light a candle called the ner habari. This candle should be long enough to last the entire Yom Kippur. It will be used for Havdalah on motzaei Yom Kippur, because a ner sheshavas is required—a flame that lasted over Yom Kippur.
In addition, yahrtzeit candles are lit for family members who have passed on.
It is a minhag in Klal Yisrael for parents to bless their children, old and young, before leaving for shul on Erev Yom Kippur. This minhag dates back to the times of the Avos.
One should look at Yom Kippur as an opportunity to become ever closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. The fact that we do not wear shoes and do not eat makes us similar to malachim. We must take advantage of this similarity during this day and emulate malachim—entities that are entirely spiritual—in order to further our bond to Hashem and to develop our dveikus to Him.
It is important, as mentioned elsewhere, to perform our teshuvah out of an intense love of Hashem. Doing so allows our aveiros—sins, to turn into zechuyos—meritorious actions.
Yom Kippur, in regard to all melachah, is like Shabbos and not like yom tov. Aside from this, however, there are five inuyim, hardships, that we also undergo on Yom Kippur. We do not eat or drink. This hardship is not only biblically forbidden, but if one violates it, one incurs a chiyuv kareis—being cut off from the nation. There are also four other hardships that are also d’Oraisah (according to most poskim). They are bathing, anointing with oil, wearing shoes, and marital relations. Carrying is also forbidden on Yom Kippur, just like on Shabbos.
How much food is forbidden to be eaten? There is a principle in halacha called chatzi shiur asur min haTorah. Even though in order to be chayav kareis one must eat the amount of a large date (which is slightly smaller than an egg) it is forbidden to eat or drink any amount. One may swallow their saliva, according to the Mishnah Berurah, although there were some opinions that suggested not to do so.
Prior to the recitation of Kol Nidrei, the Sifrei Torah are taken out of the aron kodesh and taken around the shul. People hug and kiss the Torah then. The Mateh Ephraim explains that people ask forgiveness from the Torah for impinging on the honor of the Torah in some manner throughout the year.
The services for Yom Kippur commence with the recitation of Kol Nidrei. The reason for it is because when we stand before Hashem we wish to be free of any stain in order to fulfill the verse in Vayikra (16:30) that discusses Yom Kippur: “Lifnei Hashem titharu—before Hashem you shall be pure.” Three people stand before the amud during this time. The Levush explains that when Klal Yisrael fought Amalek, both Aharon and Chur stood next to Moshe Rabbeinu because it was a fast. Another reason is because Hataras Nedarim requires three people.
The chazan recites the blessing of Shehecheyanu. The members of the congregation recite it along with him silently. They finish before the chazan so that they may answer Amein to his blessing. Every yom tov requires a Shehecheyanu. Women who lit the candles for Yom Kippur should make sure that they not repeat the Shehecheyanu again.
Between Kol Nidrei and Maariv, the rabbi often speaks words of mussar.
The custom is to stand up straight during the Selichos and tefillos of Yom Kippur whenever it is indicated in the machzor. In explanation for this, the Raavya cites the Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 46, which says that the Satan says before Hashem, “On this day Klal Yisrael are like angels, standing tall and straight, without food or water, and without shoes.”
When the Shema is recited, the words “Baruch sheim kvod malchuso l’olam vaed” are recited out loud. The Tur explains that Moshe Rabbeinu saw the angels praise Hashem with this expression when he rose to Shamayim to receive the Torah. Since we are like angels on Yom Kippur, we too recite it aloud.
In the morning we daven Shacharis and lein from the Torah. The Torah reading is from Vayikra Chapter 16: 1-34 where the instructions are given to Moshe and Aharon concerning the exact procedure for the Kohanim’s service on Yom Kippur which would enable them to achieve atonement for Israel. The portion then details the laws of Yom Kippur. There are six people that are called to the Torah on Yom Kippur and a maftir. Generally a yom tov has five aliyos, while Rosh Chodesh has four. During the week there are three people called to the Torah and on Shabbos there are seven.
For the Musaf Shemoneh Esreih we go through the Avodah of Yom Kippur in the Beis HaMikdash. There are parts in the Mussaf Shemoneh Esreih where it is the custom to bow completely on the floor. However, it is forbidden for Jews to bow on the floor of a building unless it is in the Beis HaMikdash itself. Therefore the custom is to have a towel or paper towel upon which to rest one’s knees.
During Minchah we read the parashah of the arayos and we read Sefer Yonah for the haftorah. This is because whenever there is separation from arayos there is holiness.
Neilah is a special prayer that we add on Yom Kippur as the gates of Heaven are being locked. At the end of Neilah the chazan says the pasuk of Shema Yisrael once. Baruch sheim kvod malchuso is recited three times, and Hashem Hu HaElokim is recited seven times. We blast the shofar with a tekiyah gedolah, even if it is still bein hashemashos, and we do so on Shabbos as well. The shofar blast indicates that the period of judgment has ended and that the Shechinah has risen upward. Then we recite l’shanah haba’ah biYerushalayim.
For havdalah we recite a Borei meorei ha’eish, something we do not do for other yomim tovim unless they fall on motzaei Shabbos. This is because fire was created on motzaei Shabbos. Why then do we recite the blessing after Yom Kippur? We do so because it was forbidden to use fire all of Yom Kippur unlike yom tov when we are able to cook. This is why we need to use a ner sheshavas, a flame that was burning all day. Most authorities hold that a blessing is not recited on the fire if the flame it was received from was not burning all day.
Motzaei Yom Kippur
On Motzaei Yom Kippur we should be joyous and feel confident and assured that our tefillos were answered positively. The Midrash tells us that a bas kol, a Heavenly voice emanates on Yom Kippur and says the pasuk in Koheles (9:7), “Go out and eat your bread in joy, as Hashem has found your deeds to be favorable.” It is the custom to immediately jump into more mitzvos. We begin constructing the sukkah on that night.
One should arise early to do one’s avodas Hashem on the day after Yom Kippur. The first Beis HaMikdash was dedicated in the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos. v
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