YOM KIPPUR — “Eat and Drink! For Tomorrow we Fast!!”

Everyone knows about the Mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur.  The tenth day of the month of Tishrei is the holiest day of the year.   Moses concluded his 40-day visit on Mount Sinai and brought down a second set of Tablets, demonstrating that G-d had accepted the Nation’s repentance for worshipping the Golden Calf.

Every year, on the tenth of the month we commemorate that original Day of Atonement by spending the day in prayer, repentance, and fasting.

Less well-known is the requirement to fast the day before Yom Kippur, on the ninth day of Tishrei.

What’s that?  You can’t fast the day before a fast day?  Well, the Torah seems to say otherwise:

It is a day of complete rest for you and you shall afflict yourselves [i.e, fast]; on the ninth of the month … (Exodus, 23:32)

The Talmud (Yoma, 81b) understands this verse as indicating that we fast starting on the ninth of the month … The ninth is also a fast day!

Our Sages question this reading – we KNOW that there is only one day of fasting for Yom Kippur, and that is on the tenth.  What’s the deal with fasting on the ninth??

The answer that the Talmud gives is that in reality there is a Mitzvah to EAT on the ninth, and the Torah refers to this eating as afflicting/fasting in order to consider it as if we fasted both days.

Now what is that supposed to mean?  Are we eating or are we fasting?  If we’re eating, call it eating, and if we’re fasting, call it fasting!

The Chofetz Chaim (Brief biographies of the Chofetz Chaim can be found here and here.  Read his obituaries in the New York Times and Time magazine here.) writes that G-d wants to give us some extra credit.  The harder it is to do a Mitzvah the greater the reward.  Fasting is difficult; eating is pleasant.  As such, we would assume that the reward for fasting is greater than the reward for eating.  (After all, what’s harder, Tisha B’Av or Purim?!!)  In these waning moments before the Day of Atonement, G-d CALLS the Mitzvah of eating on the ninth fasting, so He can reward our easy Mitzvah of eating as if we fulfilled the difficult Mitzvah of fasting.

This is difficult to comprehend.

Is this a game?  Is G-d pretending, with a Divine wink and a nod, that we are more devoted than we really are??  “Here, just get to first base somehow, and we’ll score it as if it’s a home run!”

What is this, frequent flyer miles?  Get credit for something you didn’t do by doing something else??

Are we getting something for next-to-nothing?

I don’t think so.  Clearly, at this point of the year, G-d wants to see us making the effort to improve ourselves.  And He’s willing to help us.  He provides us with opportunities.  But we have to do the work.

On the tenth of the month, we will fast.  How do we get ready?  Obviously, in order to fast on the tenth, we MUST eat on the ninth.  If we don’t, we won’t have the strength to carry through.  Therefore, eating on the ninth is part and parcel of the Mitzvah of fasting on the tenth.  Since we put two days of work into this effort, one of eating, to prepare, and one of the actual fast, we are considered as having put two days of effort into this Mitzvah.

But still, is it fair?  Why should we get credit for an easy Mitzvah by pretending we’re doing a hard one?

I think the point is, why are we eating?  Are we eating because we enjoy good food?  If that’s the case, I don’t know how much reward there could be to be earned.  If, however, we are eating today so that we will have the strength to fast, and to pray, and to pour our hearts out to G-d tomorrow, then today’s eating is truly a preparation for tomorrow.

Let’s look again at what the Chofetz Chaim said about easy and difficult Mitzvahs. It’s easy to eat and it’s hard to fast, right?  Well, it depends why you’re doing it.

It’s “easy” to fast for G-d. Fasting and self-deprivation de-emphasize the physical and accentuate the spiritual.  But it’s hard to be spiritual while loading up on carbs and protein.  The challenge of Erev Yom Kippur is to eat with the same spirituality and dedication that we use when we fast on Yom Kippur.

If we can accomplish that, then we will truly be fasting on those two days.


This is not just about fasting and eating; it’s a lesson about life.  We are asking G-d to Seal us in the Book of Life.  Why?  Who needs life?  Why are we here?

G-d chose to put you and me into the world, and He told us to make it a better world.  He didn’t tell us to exist simply to exist.  Have a career so you can have money so you can buy food so you can continue to exist?  What’s the point?

Numerous times throughout Yom Kippur, we will recite G-d’s 13-part “resume:” Hashem, Hashem, G-d, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who cleanses… (Exodus, 34:5-7)

The purpose of our life is to bring G-d into the world by emulating His ways.  G-d is Compassionate and Gracious; we too must be Compassionate and Gracious.  G-d is Slow to anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth.  We must, to whatever degree we can, do the same.

Living a G-dly life brings spirituality to even the most mundane and physical parts of life.

If the purpose of my life is to answer a higher calling, it means that I wake up in the morning for G-d.  It means that I brush my teeth and eat a good breakfast in order to have the good health necessary to properly serve G-d.  It means that when I go to work, when I exercise, and when I sleep, I am constantly involved in that higher calling.  Every day becomes a Yom Kippur.

It’s living with G-d.  It’s life in the “fast” lane.

Have an easy and meaningful fast. May G-d seal you and yours in the Book of Health, Prosperity, and Peace.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.


From the Archives 

Pre Yom Kippur Confessions of a Drug Addict (2005)

Okay! I admit it!  I have at least one vice!  I am addicted to a drug.  I have beaten the habit in the past.  I have, on occasion been “on the wagon” and off drugs for months at a time.  But eventually, I have repeatedly succumbed to my body’s desire for that wonder drug…



“Our Man in the Holy-of-Holies” (2009)

The High Priest had a daunting task.

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest was required to enter the Holy-of-Holies…. According to Tradition, if his thoughts were not totally pure during his visit to the Holy of Holies, he would be struck down on the spot, and would have to be removed via a rope that was attached to his leg…It must have been a very lonely time for the High Priest…

One day, each one of us will have to take our leave from this world…

We will be ushered into the Holy-of-Holies.  We will, after a lifetime of hopefully doing the right thing, be called upon to meet our Maker. On that final Day of Judgment, we will enter G-d’s Presence, and we will be very much alone…There will be no Kohain to bring incense and sin offerings on our behalf.  It will just be us, G-d, and our deeds.

…  When we go before G-d to stand in judgment, each one of us goes, all alone, as his own High Priest.  AND THERE IS NO ROPE!…



“From the Summit to the Gutter” (2003)

… Does the Torah really have to address such behavior on Yom Kippur? We are fasting. We are depriving ourselves of creature comforts and spending the day immersed in thoughts of holiness and devotion. We have confessed our transgressions of the past year and promised to avoid the pitfalls of sin in the coming year. We have witnessed the purity of the High Priest coming out of the Holy of Holies. We are on a spiritual high. Is this the time to talk about resisting X-rated temptations??!!…



“Cardiac Judaism” (2002)

… The Torah describes in great detail the very busy schedule of the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur… By the end of the day, the High Priest succeeded in achieving forgiveness for the sins of his People.

What a system!  You can sin with impunity!  Do whatever your heart desires!  The Torah is telling us that once the Kohain performs the requisite ceremonies on Yom Kippur, all is forgiven!  … Is this what Judaism is all about?!  Do whatever you want, just make sure the High Priest gets you forgiven for it on Yom Kippur?! …



This is the weekly message at https://torahtalk.wordpress.com. Copyright © 2000-2010 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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