Yom Kippur


Rabbi Bernard Fox


“Do not think… that the Holy One, Blessed be He, decrees upon a person from the moment of creation that the individual will be a tzadik or rasha.  It is not so!  Rather every individual is capable of being a tzadik like Moshe or a rasha like Yiravam….” (Mishne Torah, Hilchot Teshuva 5:2)

Maimonides explains that we are endowed with freewill.  We are the product of our choices.  The Almighty does not decree upon any individual that this person will be wicked or righteous.  Instead, the Creator empowers us.  We choose and through our choices fashion ourselves.


Maimonides explains that we are not limited by predetermined constraints.  Each of us can be as righteous as Moshe.  This comment seems to contradict other statements by Maimonides.  In Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah, Maimonides discuses prophesy.  He explains the differences between the prophesy of Moshe and of other prophets.  Maimonides comments that Moshe is the master of all prophets.   His prophesy is distinguished from all prophets that preceded him and that follow him.[1]  It seems clear that Maimonides maintains that no other individual will achieve the level of Moshe!  Yet, in our text, Maimonides tells us that each of us can be a Moshe!


This question can be answered on different levels.  On the simplest level, we can resolve this apparent contradiction through better understanding the phenomenon of prophecy.  Maimonides explains that prophecy is not acquired through the unilateral efforts of the individual.  Spiritual perfection is a prerequisite for prophecy.  However, one’s personal perfection does not assure the prophecy will be achieved.[2]  Hashem may grant the person a vision.  It is also possible that the Almighty will not respond with a prophetic communication.


This understanding of prophecy provides an obvious answer to our question.  We can each achieve the righteousness of Moshe.  It does not follow that this righteousness will secure the prophetic vision of Moshe.  Prophecy, at its various levels, cannot be claimed through individual effort alone.  The Almighty bestows prophetic vision.  He has indicated that He will not elevate another individual to the prophetic level of Moshe.


We can also resolve our question in a different manner.  Maimonides comments that any individual can be a tzadik like Moshe.  What does the term tzadik mean?  The term is derived from the word tzedek.  Tzedek means justice.  This indicates that the tzadik is a person associated with justice.  Justice is a difficult concept to define.  However, we can make the following observation.  The concept of justice assumes the existence of an order within the universe and society.  Justice requires that a person live within this order.  Let us consider an example.  Assume two individuals come to court.  One claims to be owed money by the other.  How does the court resolve the issue?  The court assumes that an order exists.  This order dictates specific rights between individuals.  The court attempts to resolve the issue through applying these rights to this case.  In short, justice is achieved through applying a system of order to the case.


What does this tell us about the tzadik?  The tzadik wishes to fulfill his or her role in the universe created by the Creator.  What is this role?  It certainly differs for various individuals.  However, we know the outline.  We must observe the Torah and serve the Almighty.  We are each created with unique talents and abilities.  These traits dictate different specific roles for various individuals.  No individual can be a prophet on par with Moshe.  This is not part of our individual missions.  However, personal righteousness is an expression of faithfulness to the highest role each individual can achieve.


Now we can understand Maimonides’ comments.  In order to be a tzadik, a person does not need to be as wise as Moshe or a prophet.  Yet, every person can work towards fully actualizing his or her potential and fulfilling one’s individual role.





“It is a mitzvah to eat and drink on the eve of Yom HaKippurim and to partake of an extensive meal.”  (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim  604:1)

Shulacah Aruch explains that we are commanded to partake of an extensive meal on the eve of Yom Kippur.  This halacha is discussed in the Talmud.  The Talmud explains that one who eats and drinks extensively on the eve of Yom Kippur is regarded as having fasted for two days.[3]


The commentaries offer various explanations for this requirement.  Rashi explains that the Torah requires us to partake of a substantial meal on the eve of the fast in order to prepare ourselves for the ordeal of fasting.[4]


Rashi essentially maintains that meal on the eve of Yom Kippur is a preparation for the fast.  This is a difficult concept to understand.  Every mitzvah requires preparation.  On Succot, we live in the Succah.  In order to fulfill this mitzvah, we must build a Succah.  This is a necessary preparation for the fulfillment of the commandment. Yet, the building of the Succah is not regarded as a part of the mitzvah of living in the Succah.  It is a preparation.  In contrast, Rashi seems to indicate that preparation for Yom Kippur, through eating and drinking, is part of the actual performance of the command!


Rabbaynu Asher deals with this issue.  He too, explains the requirement to eat and drink prior to the fast.  He offers the same explanation as Rashi.  However he adds important comments.  He explains that this law is designed to demonstrate the Almighty’s love for Bnai Yisrael.  He offers a parable, which illustrates the concept.  A king decrees that his son should fast on a predetermined date.  He then commands his servants to feed his son on the day prior to the fast. The king wishes to assure that the son will be well prepared to endure the challenge of the fast.  Similarly, the Almighty assigns us a day of the year to fast.  This is an opportunity to atone for our transgressions. He than commands us to eat and drink the previous day.  He wishes to help us through the ordeal.[5]

The comments of Rabbaynu Asher provide an answer to our question.  The preparation for Yom Kippur is different from the preparations for Succot.  We build a Succah because of strictly practical considerations.  These preparations are not part of the actual mitzvah of living in the Succah. The preparations for Yom Kippur are not motivated by practical considerations. Instead, these preparations are designed to place Yom Kippur in the proper context.  The day must be viewed as an expression of the Almighty’s compassion for His people.  This is accomplished through fulfilling the obligation of eating and drinking on the eve of the fast.  This helps present Yom Kippur as an expression of the Almighty’s compassion for His people.  Therefore, the meal on the eve of Yom Kippur is a fundamental component of the actual mitzvah.

[1]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 7:6.

[2]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 7:5.

[3]   Mesechet Yoma 81b.

[4]   Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on the Talmud, Mesechet Yoma 81b.

[5]   Rabbaynu Asher, Commentary on the Talmud, Mesechet Yoma, Chapter 8, note 22.