- Erev Yom Kippur (Tishri 9)
- It is a tradition to eat two festive meals on Erev Yom Kippur
- Eating a hearty meal to attain strength for the upcoming fast
- The practice of adding kindness to the severity of judgment
- Immersion in a mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur
- The Erev Yom Kippur afternoon prayer service (the Minchah)
Erev Yom Kippur (Tishri 9):
Erev Yom Kippur (lit. “eve of the day of atonement”) is the day preceding Yom Kippur, corresponding to the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri. This day is commemorated with two festive meals, the giving of charity, and asking others for forgiveness. The day preceding Yom Kippur is a mixture of confident joy in the mercy and forgiveness of Adonai and repentant preparation for the administration of His justice.
It is a tradition to eat two festive meals on Erev Yom Kippur:
The day before Yom Kippur is a yom tov (יום טוב), a festive day.
It is festive because there is a confidence by those who have repented, prayed in faith, and done the required works of righteousness (charity) that they will secure grace, blessing, and mercy from the Judge (the Eternal One on the final day of His Heavenly Court Proceedings (on the next day of Yom Kippur).
It is customary to eat two festive meals on Erev Yom Kippur one at midday and the other (prior to sunset) called Seudah Mafseket (סעודה מפסקת), the “separation meal” taken before the fast. The latter meal separates the weekday from the holiest day of the year.
Again, this is a festive meal, and the challah (חלה) is dipped in honey. Only easy-to-digest foods are on the menu, such as chicken and soup. No intoxicating beverages. It is also customary not to eat fish at this meal.
One should dip his challah in honey (or sugar) and eat fish and meat at the first meal (as just stated, at the final meal before the fast, the participants avoid eating fish). However, one should be careful to eat only easily digestible foods and refrain from eating hot foods, whose primary ingredient is milk, eggs, or garlic. Also, this is important:
One should not overeat on Erev Yom Kippur, so that one does not approach Yom Kippur in a mood of arrogance and self-indulgence.
Eating a hearty meal to attain strength for the upcoming fast:
Another reason given for eating food on the ninth of Tishri is to make certain that one possesses the strength to fast the next day. Therefore it is especially important to consume a hearty meal shortly before the onset of the fast, since this meal will positively impact one’s ability to fast throughout the observance of Yom Kippur.
The practice of adding kindness to the severity of judgment:
In many communities it is customary to eat kreplach (קרפלך) – small squares of rolled pasta dough filled with ground meat and folded into triangles – on the day before Yom Kippur.
Kreplach can be boiled and served in soup or fried and served as a side dish. The meat symbolizes severity and the dough – kindness.
In preparation for the Day of Judgment, therefore, one is seeking to “cover” the severity of the judgment of Adonai with the Presence of His kindness (chesed-חסד). This symbolic gesture is a reminder to us that “we” should be practicing kindness toward “others” throughout the year. For it has been said:
אל־תאמר אשלמה־רע קוה ל ה’ וישע לך׃
אַל־תֹּאמַר אֲשַׁלְּמָה־רָע קַוֵּה לַֽ ה’ וְיֹשַֽׁע לָֽךְ׃
Do not say, “I will repay evil;” Wait for Adonai (the LORD) and He will save you.
Therefore it has been said, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge but leave room for the wrath of the Almighty, for it is written:
לי נקם ושלם לעת תמוט רגלם כי קרוב יום אידם וחש עתדת למו׃
לִי נָקָם וְשִׁלֵּם לְעֵת תָּמוּט רַגְלָם כִּי קָרֹוב יֹום אֵידָם וְחָשׁ עֲתִדֹת לָֽמֹו׃
“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”
Therefore, we are compelled to practice throughout the year chesed to all; even our enemies, for it is written: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (1, 2, 3). So kindness should constantly be practiced throughout the year in our judgment of others, so that on the Day of Judgment we too might receive kindness from the Holy One in His judgment of us!
Immersion in a mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur:
It is the custom for men over the bar mitzva age (12 for girls, 13 for boys) to immerse themselves in a mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur. The best time to do so is close to Mincha (afternoon prayers) so the confession of the *Shemoneh Esrei (שמונה עשרה) will be said in a state of spiritual purity.
*The Amidah (Hebrew: תפילת העמידה, Tefilat HaAmidah, “The Standing Prayer”), also called the Shmoneh Esreh (שמנה עשרה, “The Eighteen”, in reference to the original number of constituent blessings: there are now nineteen), is the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy.
Women may immerse themselves also. No blessing is recited at this immersion. There are two reasons for this immersion: In order to be ritually pure in preparation for the holiest day of the year. The immersion is symbolic of conversion. Just as a convert immerses in a mikvah and thus becomes a “new person,” so, too, it is our intention to do Teshuvah (repentance) and become new people.
The Erev Yom Kippur afternoon prayer service (the Minchah):
On Erev Yom Kippur the Minchah (מנחה-the afternoon prayer service) is prayed relatively early to allow everyone ample time to return home to eat the “separation meal.” Dressed in holiday finery, everyone makes their way to the Minchah services.