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Questions and Answers on the Customs (Minhagim) of Yom Kippur

Questions and Answers on the Customs (Minhagim) of Yom Kippur

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בערב יוהכ"פ מבקשים לעקאח (מיני מזונות) וגם אוכלים ממנו
Erev Yom Kippur one should ask for lekach — [honey] cake — and eat of it.” (Sefer Haminhagim-Chabad)

QUESTION: Why necessarily ask for lekach?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Beitza 16a) says that, “All of a person’s income (food) is fixed each year from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur.” In the event that it was decreed for a person to have to beg for food during the year, by asking now for lekach, he is symbolically saying, “Should it have been decided for me to have to beg, may it be accomplished with this begging that I am now doing and may it be in a sweet and pleasant way.”

(ספר המטעמים בשם תוספות חיים)

Incidentally, the Gemara (ibid.) says that the decision regarding the income for the year does not include the expenditures for Shabbat and Yom Tov meals or the expenditures for children’s study of Torah (tuition — (Beit Yosef) or monthly gifts to teachers (Bach)). The Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 30a) also includes in the exception expenses for Rosh Chodesh meals (see Tur, Orach Chaim 419). For in regard to these expenditures, if one spends less, he receives less; and if he spends more, he receives more. The expenditures made for these mitzvot do not actually diminish a person’s total income.

The word Tishrei (תשרי) is an acronym for the expenditures not included in the designated income of the year.ת = Talmud Torah, ש = Shabbat, ר = Rosh Chodesh, י = Yom Tov.

(מכלול המאמרים והפתגמים)


"נוהגין לטבול בערב יום הכיפורים"
“It is customary to immerse in a mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur.”

QUESTION: How many times should one dip himself under the water?

ANSWER: The immersion is for the purpose of attaining purity (from seminal emissions), and one time is sufficient.

(רמ"א או"ח סי' תר"ו:ד)

A berachah need not be recited since it is merely a custom and not obligatory.

(מ"ב, שם, ס'קי"ט)

Some say the immersion is because of Teshuvah — repentance — similar to a proselyte who converts, and it should be done three times.

(שו"ע אדמוה"ז סי' תר"ו:י"ב וכ"כ בשל"ה ע' רכ"ח, בשם מהרי"ל ובליקוטי מהרי"ח כ' דלפי"ז צריך דוקא טבילה במקוה כשרה ולא סגי בתשעה קבין, וכן מוכח נמי מלשון אדמוה"ז דרק לעיל בסעי' י"א כשכתב דטעם הטבילה הוא משום קרי הביא אודות מ' סאה שאובים וט' קבים)

The three times also correspond to “cheit, avon, pesaha,” — “sin, iniquity, willful transgression. Also, the concept of Taharah — purity — is mentioned three times in the Biblical portion concerning the services on Yom Kippur (Vayikra 16:19, 30.

(של"ה ע' רכ"ח ע"א-ספר חסידים שצ"ד)

Some immerse 14 times, as on Erev Shabbat, and some 39 times corresponding to the 39 lashes (which are done symbolically prior to the immersion — according to Chabad).

(של"ה, שם)

Kaf Hachaim (581:83) writes to immerse 8 times.

* * *

QUESTION: How does this accord with the Rambam’s statement (Mikvaot 1:9) that one who immerses in a mikveh more than once is acting in a way that is despicable(“meguneh”)?

ANSWER: According to the Kesef Mishneh (Avot Hatumah 6:16) one acquires purity only after emerging from the mikveh and not while still in the mikveh.Consequently, as long as one is in the mikveh, one may immerse himself as many times as he wishes. Only leaving and then returning to the mikveh to immerse again is “meguneh” because it appears as though he is using the mikveh to cool off and refresh himself rather than for purification.

(הדרש והעיון, ועי' פרדס יוסף ויקרא י"ד:ח', ולקו"ש חל"ב ע' 241)

* * *

Some immerse three times during Erev Yom Kippur — in the morning before Shacharit, in the afternoon before Minchah, and after the Seudah Hamfseket — before Kol Nidrei.

(שו"ע אדמוה"ז תר"ו:י"ג)


קרעפכין
Krepchen

QUESTION: Why do we eat “krepchen” (meat covered with dough) on Erev Yom Kippur?

ANSWER: On Yom Tov it is forbidden to do any work (except food preparation), and it is a mitzvah to experience the utmost joy. Thus, it is customary to eat meat during Yom Tov, because it brings one into a joyous mood (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 529:6).

Though work is permitted on Erev Yom Kippur, it is our custom to consider it a holiday (see Shulchan Aruch Harav 604:4), and we eat a festive meal. Hence, we eat meat in order to achieve a joyous mood, but because it is not a complete Yom Tov, we cover the meat with dough. (This also explains why krepchen are eaten on Purim and Hoshana Rabbah.)

(אוצר כל מנהגי ישרון ע' 186)


"יום הכפורים אסור... ובנעילת הסנדל"
“Yom Kippur it is prohibited in wearing shoes.” (Yoma 73b)

QUESTION: Why are shoes not worn on Yom Kippur (according to Kabbalah)?

ANSWER: Originally, the entire universe received a Divine blessing. After Adam violated the command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem said “accursed is the ground because of you” (Bereishit 3:17). Consequently, we wear shoes in order that there be a chatzizah — separation — between the flesh of the human foot and the ground which was cursed because of man.

Holy ground, however, is excluded and is blessed. Therefore, when Hashem appeared to Moshe in the thorn bush, He said, “Do not approach, take off your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground” (Shemot 3:5). Thus, it is proper for a human to be attached to holy ground and feel it without any interposition.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, and the holiness of the day permeates the entire universe to the extent that the cursed earth reverts to its original blessed state. Hence, we do not wear shoes, so that we be attached to Hashem’s holy and blessed earth.

* * *

The Gemara (Shabbat 129a) says “a person should always sell even the beams of his house, if necessary, to buy shoes for his feet.” In light of the above it can be said that the reason our Sages have given such importance to shoes is that a person should do everything humanly possible to distance himself from a curse.

Incidentally, when Mashiach comes, the earth will return to its blessed original state. Since Mashiach, was born on Tishah B’Av (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 2:4), shoes are not worn to express our anticipating the coming of Mashiach, at which time we will be connected with blessed earth.

(אגרא דפרקא סי' ד"ש, מיוסד על מהר"מ חגיז בספרו מענת חכמים בשם חכמי הרמז)


במנחה קורין בעריות
“During the Minchah service we read the passage of arayot — forbidden relationships (Megillah 31a)

QUESTION: Why is this the selected Torah reading for Yom Kippur?

ANSWER: According to Rashi it is read to inspire those who have committed acts of immorality to repent. These sins are singled out because people are drawn to them and they are therefore prevalent sins.

Tosafot quotes a Midrash that with this we are hinting to Hashem “Just as You forbade us to expose certain nakedness, so You should not expose the nakedness of the Jewish people in their sins.”

* * *

Alternatively, the Gemara (Yoma 67b) says that the precipice in the wilderness from which the he-goat was pushed off is called “Azazeil,” indicating that it atones for the act of Uza and Azail (Rashi). These were two angels of destruction who descended to earth in the days of Na’amah the sister of Tuval Kayin and who proceeded to cohabit with the daughters of man (see Bereishit 6:2, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 1:22). Thus, they represent the sin of adultery, for which the he-goat atones. (Some explain, that this does not mean it atones only for adultery, but rather the he-goat atones for all types of transgressions, even the very severe sin of adultery.)

Since the actual pushing of the he-goat over the cliff, and its subsequent atonement for [even] adultery, took place after the Kohen Gadol read the section of Acharei Mot (the Yom Kippur morning reading), during the Minchah — afternoon service — we read the Biblical portion that discusses arayot — adulterous relationships.

(ספר שלחן הקריאה בשם ר' בצלאל ז"ל מווילנא)


במנחה דיו"כ קורין בניגון הקריאה דכל השנה
The Torah reading for Minchah is done with the same tune as the entire year

QUESTION: Why is Minchah Torah reading not done in the same sad tone as in the morning?

ANSWER: The morning reading discusses the sudden tragic death of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon the Kohen Gadol. The Zohar states concerning one who is agonized over the death of Aharon’s sons and weeps on Yom Kippur while reading this portion of the Torah, that his sins will be forgiven and his children will not expire during his lifetime (See Shulchan Aruch Harav 621:15).

The Gemara (Shabbat 131a) explains that the pasuk “And Moshe heard the people weeping by their families [and the wrath of Hashem flared greatly]” (Bamidbar 11:10) means that they wept over matters of families, that certain relatives were now prohibited to one another in marriage. To clearly disassociate ourselves from this wrong behavior, we do not read the portion of arayot — forbidden relationships — with a sad voice, but rather in the regular manner of Torah readings throughout the year.

(אוצר כל מנהגי ישרון)


ומפטירין ביונה
“And conclude with the Haftarah from the book of Yonah” (Megillah 31a).

QUESTION: Why was the Book of Yonah selected as the Haftarah?

ANSWER: Repentance is necessary to gain atonement on Yom Kippur. It is most appropriate to read the Book of Yonah since its main theme is teshuvah, and since it stresses that Hashem readily accepts repentance.

The reason it is read at Minchah, which is towards the end of the day, may be the following:

In an attempt to escape from Hashem, Yonah boarded a ship going to Tarshish. He descended to one of the compartments where he had lain down and had fallen fast asleep. There was a fierce storm at sea, and the ship seemed about to break up. The sailors were frightened and each cried out to his god. The captain approached Yonah and said to him, “How can you sleep so soundly? Rise, call to your G‑d; perhaps G‑d will think of us favorably so that we will not perish.”

As the day of Yom Kippur is drawing to an end, some may have been “sleeping” through it and not repenting. Reading the Book of Yonah is a wake up call. The captain — Hashem — calls to us, “Why are you sleeping, rise, call to your G‑d — repent — you will be thought of favorably and be blessed with all good.”


"ביום שאחר יוהכ"פ משכימין לבהכ"נ"
“The day after Yom Kippur we rise early to shul.” (Rav Shulchan Aruch 624:14)

QUESTION: What is the reason for this custom?

ANSWER: On Yom Kippur one spends the entire day in prayer and supplication. In order that Satan not be mekatreig — talk evil — that the Jews are hypocrites, they “act” frum only on Yom Kippur out of fear for the day of judgment, and afterwards ‘it is business as usual,’ we rise early to shul the day after Yom Kippur to show that our devotion to Hashem is sincere and that our ways are truly improved.

(של"ה עי' מחצית השקל סי' תרכ"ד)


"מחרת יוהכ"פ נקרא בשם השם"
“The day after Yom Kippur is called ‘Sheim Hashem’ — G‑d’s Name.’”

QUESTION: Why is it called this?

ANSWER: Normally in the Shemoneh Esreih, the third berachah (Atah Kadosh) concludes “Hakeil Hakadosh” — “the Holy Al-mighty.” Starting with Rosh Hashanah till Ne’eilah of Yom Kippur, Hamelech Hakadosh” — “the Holy King” — is substituted. The day after Yom Kippur is called “G‑d’s Name” to indicate that on this day we revert to saying “Hakeil Hakadosh,” which is one of G‑d’s seven holy Names.

(אשל אברהם (בוטשאטש) סי' תרכ"ד בשם הבעש"ט)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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