The Mitzvah to Eat on Erev Yom Kippur
The Torah (Vayikra 23) states: “And you shall oppress yourselves on the ninth of the month at night,” meaning that the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur begins from the night of the tenth of Tishrei. Our Sages (Berachot 8a) inquired about the language of the verse, “The ninth of the month at night,” that would it not make more sense to write “the tenth of the month” and we shall understand by default that the obligation to fast begins from the night of the tenth as we find regarding all other laws of the Torah the day begins with the preceding night, as we find by Shabbat which begins from sunset on Friday evening?
Our Sages answered that the reason why the verse states, “The ninth of the month at night,” is in order to teach us that anyone who eats and drinks on the ninth of the month, it is considered as if he has fasted for the ninth and tenth of the month. It is preferable to minimize one’s workload on Erev Yom Kippur in order that one is able to eat and drink copiously. Anyone who performs work on Erev Yom Kippur shall never see any blessing from the money he earns on that day.
There are several reasons given for this Mitzvah. The Rosh writes that the reason Hashem commanded us to perform this Mitzvah is because since Hashem, with all of His love, commanded us to fast on Yom Kippur in order to atone for our sins, He thus commanded us to strengthen ourselves by eating and drinking before Yom Kippur so that we may fast the next day. The Shiboleh Ha’Leket writes that, on the contrary, when one eats and drinks on Erev Yom Kippur, the fast the next day is harder for him and in this way one fulfills the verse, “You shall oppress yourselves.” The Sefat Emet writes an additional reason, that when one eats and drinks, this gladdens him and as a result he will come to appease his friend on Erev Yom Kippur.
Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a writes that women are also obligated in this Mitzvah to eat and drink plentifully on Erev Yom Kippur. Although women are exempt from performing positive Mitzvot which are time-bound and in our situation the Mitzvah is to actively go and eat, nevertheless, since the Rosh writes that the reason for this Mitzvah is in order to give us strength for the upcoming fast and women are also obligated to fast, they are also subsequently obligated to strengthen themselves in preparation for the fast.
Some Customs Pertaining to Erev Yom Kippur
The great Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l writes that one is obligated to ask for his parents’ forgiveness on Erev Yom Kippur for all of the sins he has committed against them and all of the ways he has insulted their honor. One who does not do so is considered a sinner and treats the respect of his father and mother lightly, for if our Sages required one to ask one’s friends and fellows for forgiveness, certainly one ask for his parents’ forgiveness, for it is almost impossible not to transgress this prohibition daily. It is likewise worthy for spouses to forgive one another for all of the inappropriate behavior and angst that they caused each other throughout the year.
It is customary to pray Mincha at an early hour on Erev Yom Kippur. In the Amidah prayer, after reciting the verse, “Yihyu Leratzon Imrei Fi Vehegyon Libi Lefanecha, Hashem Tzuri Vego’ali,” one recites Viduy (the confessional prayer) and “Al Chet” as is printed in Yom Kippur Machzorim. Then, one should proceed home and eat his last meal before the onset of the fast. One should begin to abstain from the five prohibitions that apply on Yom Kippur (i.e. eating and drinking, washing, rubbing one’s self with oils or lotions, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations) before sunset. (It is a Torah commandment to begin abstaining from all the Yom Kippur-related prohibitions before sunset; it is preferable to do so at least fifteen minutes before sunset.)
It is a Mitzvah to light candles in honor of Yom Kippur. Before lighting, one should recite the blessing of, “Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvotav Vetzivanu Le’Hadlik Ner Shel Yom HaKippurim.” A woman should not recite the Shehecheyanu blessing along with the blessing on the candles until she has removed her leather shoes; only after doing so can one recite this blessing, for by reciting this blessing, she accepts upon herself the sanctity of Yom Kippur and becomes obligated to abstain from the five prohibitions immediately.
It is customary to wrap one’s self in his Tallit before sunset (so that one will be able to recite the blessing); all of the Yom Kippur prayers are recited while wearing a Tallit so that one can pray with concentration while it is on him.
“Kaparot” is customarily performed during these days (i.e. the Ten Days of Repentance). Some fulfill this custom using chickens while others use money, as we have discussed in the Halacha regarding the Custom of Kaparot.