Yom Kippur


Hear the Halakhoth of Yom Kippur
Shiur on Ben Ish Hai, by Hakham Yoseph Hayyim, ‘a”h
given by the Hakham, Rabbi Ya’aqob Menashe

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When Ribbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai became ill before leaving this world, his disciples came to visit him. Upon seeing them he began to cry. They asked him why he was crying and he replied:

If I were made to stand before a king who was of flesh and blood, one who will be in the grave tomorrow, whose anger is not everlasting and who cannot imprison me forever or cause me an eternal death — one whom I could appease with words or money — I would still be crying.

Now that I am going to face the Melekh Malkhei Hammelakhim, the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed Be He: if He imprisons me – it is forever, if He causes death to come upon me – it is eternal. And I can not appease Him with words or a bribe. In addition, there are two paths in front of me, one that leads to Gan ‘Eden (Heaven), and one to Gehinnam (hell). I do not know to which path I will be lead. How can I not cry?

It is precisely about this Ribbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai that it was said that if the whole sky would turn into paper, the trees into pens and the oceans into ink, it would not be sufficient to write his great wisdom. If he was so scared of the day of death, what does it mean for the rest of us?

No one knows when we will be called for judgement. We pray for long, healthy and happy lives, but it could happen at any time. We should do Teshuba (repentance) while the candle is still burning. Once the flame is extinguished Teshubah can no longer be made.

Teshubah requires several elements including prayer and charity. Hakham Yoseph Hayyim, a'”h, asks why the torah stresses the fast more than any other aspect. As it says: “Ta’anu Eth Nafshothekhem”. One of the many answers that he gives is that fasting involves the entire body. The other elements do not. For example, Giving charity is completely external to the body. Widdui (confession) is done through the mouth, and so on. The Tiqqun (rectification) that is made through the fast, affects our 248 limbs and 365 sinews, which comprise our entire body.

Customs and Halakha

The ‘Aqedah of Yishaq Abinu took place on the tenth of Tashri at Minha time – which is Minha time of Yom Kippur, as is written: “And the tenth day of this seventh month shall be a holy convocation to you and you shall afflict your souls – no manner of work shall you do.” (Numbers 29,7).

For this reason, it is of great importance to read the portion of the ”Aqedah at the commencement of the Minha prayer on the day of Yom Kippur. In Imrei Sasson it is written that whoever reads the ”Aqedah with great intent, to serve his Creator as did Yishaq Abinu, will have all his sins forgiven.

During the last hours of the night, the day before Yom Kippur, Kapparoth – a formula of atonement – is made using chickens or money.

On ‘Ereb Yom Kippur we prepare ourselves for the awe-filled day ahead of us. The following are some of the preparations:

  •   If possible, we should eat twice the amount of food we normally would on one day.
  •   It is good to eat fish in the morning.
  •   Both men and women go to the Miqweh.
  •   Hattarath Nedarim is made.
  •   Forgiveness is asked of one’s parents, teachers, spouse and acquaintances.

On Yom Kippur, eating and drinking, bathing, anointing, wearing (leather) shoes and marital relations are prohibited.

The wearing of white clothes is again prescribed for Yom Kippur and Sepharadim should make every effort to adhere to this. We are filled with faith and confidence that, through His abundant mercy, our repentance will be accepted and we will come out of this day clean and pure like angels. Many Ashkenazim have the Minhagh of wearing a white shroud (as a reminder of the day of death) over their regular clothes. Sepharadim do not have this custom.

The evening services start before sunset so that the Berakha on the Sissith may be pronounced. In addition, the Kol Nidre service must be recited before sunset, as the absolution of vows cannot take place after that time.

Kol Nidre only annuls vows (which for reasons out of one’s control one was unable to keep) between man and G-d and not man and his neighbor. Similarly, Yom Kippur is atonement for sins between man and his Creator only. As such, prior to Kol Nidre, the Hazzan should ask the congregation to forgive one another, to which all reply “Mahalnu”, (“We have forgiven”).

The Halakhoth connected with Yom Kippur are many and far too numerous to be mentioned here. One who has questions concerning this awesome day and the fast itself should consult a Hakham.

The entire day should be spent in prayer and repentance. The prayers that one utters should be said with understanding and one who is unable to do so should, at least, recite them in a tearful voice.

At the conclusion of the fast, after the blowings of the Shofar, ‘Arbith should be prayed carefully and slowly. Every effort must be made not to rush it (in order to get home and eat) and make this the first sin after our cries and supplications for forgiveness.

Many communities recite Birkath Hallebanah (the blessing for the moon) prior to Yom Kippur and not after the fast. There are several reasons for this: one of them being the tendency of some congregations to rush it in order to get home. In addition, Birkath Hallebanah should be recited after one has tasted some food.



 Taken from the writings of the Hakham, Rabbi Ya’aqob Menashe.

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