Mending Our Hearts on Erev Yom Kippur

Erev Yom Kippur is considered an inseparable part of Yom Kippur itself, as expressed in Vayikra (Book of Leviticus), 23:32: “It is a complete day of rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth of the month in the evening, from evening to evening, you shall observe your rest day.” The Gemara (Brachot 8b) expounds on this verse, stating that anyone who eats on the ninth of Tishrei is credited as though he had fasted on the tenth of Tishrei.

Preparing For Yom Kippur

There exists a long list of technical halachic provisions that had to be made in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) on Erev Yom Kippur, such as: preparing the ketoret (incense offering), heating the mikveh (ritual bath), performing vidui, (confession), preparing the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), and preparing the seudah hamafseket (final meal prior to the fast).

The question, however, is, what are the spiritual preparations we need to make on Erev Yom Kippur? Interspersed throughout the Talmud are no less than 14 stories about Erev Yom Kippur. The following story poignantly illustrates the need for spiritual preparations on that day:

Rami ben Tamri, also known as Rami ben Dikuli, of Pumbedita, once happened to be in Sura on Erev Yom Kippur. When the townspeople took all the udders [of the animals] and threw them away, he immediately went and collected them and ate them.

He was brought before Rav Hisda, who said to him: “Why did you do that?” He replied: “I come from the place of Rav Yehuda, who permits it to be eaten.” Rav Hisda responded: “But do you not accept the rule: [When a person arrives in a town] he must adopt the restrictions of the town he has left and also the restrictions of the town he has entered?” Rami answered: “I ate them outside the [city’s] boundary.” “And with what did you roast them?” He replied, “With the kernels [of grapes].” “Perhaps they were [the kernels] of wine used for idolatrous purposes?” He replied. “They had been lying there more than twelve months.” “Perhaps they were stolen goods?” He replied. “The owners must have certainly abandoned all rights to them for lichen was growing amongst them.”

Rav Hisda noticed that Rami was not wearing Tefillin and asked him, “Why are you not wearing Tefillin?” He replied, “I suffer from digestive ailments, and Rav Yehuda has said that one who suffers from the digestive ailments is exempt from wearing Tefillin.”

Rav Hisda also noticed that Rami was not wearing tzitzit [ritual fringes,] and asked him, “Why are you not wearing tzitzit?” He replied, “The coat [l am wearing] is borrowed, and Rav Yehuda has said: a borrowed coat is, for the first 30 days, exempt from tzitzit.”

While this was taking place, another man was brought in [to the Beit Din / rabbinic court] for not honoring his father and mother. They bound him [to have him flogged], but Rami said to them, “Leave him alone, for it has been taught: every commandment that contains the promise of reward [such as the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents, the observance of which carries with it the promise of long life] does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Earthly Court.”

Rav Hisda said to him, “I see that you are very sharp.” Rami replied, “If only you would come to Rav Yehuda’s school, I would show you how sharp I am!”

What is the message of this story? Which of the characters has acted reprehensibly? Who should be doing a tikkun? Which tikkun must be done?

Focusing on the Wrong Mitzvot

The story above occurred on Erev Yom Kippur. Everyone was busy preparing for the holiday. After Mincha, they ate the seuda hamafseket and went to immerse in the mikveh. While the seuda hamafseket was being cooked, they threw out the udders, which the residents of Sura were not in the habit of eating.

Troubled Person on BenchMeanwhile, a Jew from the city of Pumbedita arrived. No one took notice of him, no one invited him to partake of the seuda hamafseket, and he had no choice but to eat the udders he managed to find in the heap of garbage.

Instead of soul searching and opening their hearts and homes, the Jews of Sura were preoccupied with the degree to which Rami ben Tamri was keeping the halachot, and forced him to appear before Rav Hisda in judgment.

Rav Hisda does not confront the members of his community. Rather, he cooperates with them, investigating what the guest had done. Rami ben Tamri has no choice but to eat the leftovers in the pile of garbage, outside of the town’s boundaries, and to roast the udders on the uneaten parts of the grapes. He did not wear tefillin because he had a digestive disorder, ostensibly due to the unhygienic conditions in which he ate. It turns out that he did not even possess his own clothes, and was therefore exempt from wearing tzitzit.

It seems that this story is critical of the community, the members of which are remiss in fulfilling their main role. Instead of welcoming guests and doing charitable acts on Erev Yom Kippur, they are preoccupied with how precisely Rami ben Tamri observes the mitzvot. They are meddling in matters with which they should not be concerned.

At times, we may feel that our own society is too preoccupied in “checking tzitzit” – scrutinizing the actions of others – instead of worrying about how well they, themselves, keep the mitzvot concerning their conduct with others.

It is commendable to go the extra mile in keeping the mitzvah of etrog, or to insist on donning only the best tefillin, but it is just as important, if not more important, to be mehader – to be scrupulous – in avoiding gossip or embarrassing others.

Some mitzvot have a high “rating”, while others have a low “rating”. During the proceedings, Rami ben Tamri, in effect, rebukes those present and reminds them what a beit din shel mata – an Earthly Court – should be engaged in, and what matters it should be looking into.

Holding a Piece of MatzaRabbi Israel of Salant decried this social phenomenon of excessive peer judgment when he established the Mussar movement. He devised a halachic and Torah-based movement completely dedicated to mending social and ethical ills. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Rabbi Israel’s passing, Rav Avi Gisser quoted Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, who said the following:

What this generation needs to know – now, more than ever – is that with the Mussar movement and its burning fire, Rav Salant dedicated himself to publicizing the importance of social justice and the unique stringency with which we must keep mitzvot and obligations between people. This is because without these, there is no basis for the fear of G-d and moral purity.

Once, a rabbi was asked to visit a new matzah bakery and share his opinion on how it operates and its level of kashrut. He took a special interest in reviewing the work procedures and observing how the employees were working. When he was finished, the owner of the bakery approached him, and, smiling proudly, asked him: “So, what does the rav think?” To which the rabbi responded: “The gentiles have libeled us, claiming that we use, God forbid, the blood of Christian children when preparing our matzot. This is not the case. However, based on what I’ve seen here, we have transgressed the prohibition of blood. We are mixing the blood of the workers in the matzot. I would not give such a bakery a kosher certificate.”

The words of our sages, as related in Tractate Yoma, are well known: “… for those transgressions that are between one person and another, Yom Kippur does not provide atonement until s/he obtains forgiveness from the other.”

Therefore, we find that the gateway to Yom Kippur is not the seuda hamafseket, immersing in the mikveh, or performing vidui, unless we open our hearts to other people. We should not be judging others, or reviewing other people’s actions. Instead, we should be reviewing our own actions.

How accessible are we to those who need us? The Holy One, Blessed Be He, calls out to a person, and says that He is asking us to respect each other. He says that He is not asking for your prayers or sacrifices. Rather, He wishes we were sensitive to His sons and daughters. This is the tikkun He wants.

My wish, for all of us, is that we greet this holy day with a genuinely mended heart, which will lead to tikkun olam, a mended world.

Rabbanit Oshra KorenRabbanit Oshra Koren is the founder and director of Matan HaSharon: the Mindy Greenberg Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, where she teaches Talmud and Tanakh. She is also the Deputy Chairperson of Ra’anana’s Religious Council, having previously served for 13 years on the Ra’anana City Council. Rabbanit Koren is a member of the Beit Hillel Executive Committee.
 

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