The Five Days of Yom Kippur
Days of Atonement
There was once a province of a large kingdom that owed an enormous amount
of money in taxes to the sovereign. Upset by the laxity of his subjects in
paying their debts, the king decided that the time had come to take action.
He summoned his armed forces, and together they traveled to the province in
order to collect the overdue tariff.
As the king approached, the leaders of the province came out to greet him.
They implored their monarch to have pity on them, as they were
poverty-stricken and had nothing to give him. Touched by their words, the
king reduced their debt by a third. As the king's retinue advanced closer
to the province, the important members of the community came out to receive
him. As they repeated the words of the leaders, the king decided to reduce
the debt by another third. When the king finally arrived in the province,
all the common folk came out to humble themselves before him. Moved by all
that had transpired, he canceled the debt entirely.
Our Sages present this story as a parable to the time before and after the
ten days of repentance. The residents of the province are the Jewish
people; the debt is the year's accumulation of sins. On erev Rosh HaShanah
the extremely righteous take the first step toward appeasing HaShem by
fasting, and in response, HaShem pardons a third of our sins. During the
Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, the important members of the community fast, and
another third is removed. Finally, on Yom Kippur, everyone refrains from
food, and HaShem erases all of our transgressions.
During the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, the Jewish people are
so involved with building their sukkos and buying their lulav and esrog,
that they are too busy to sin. Therefore Sukkos is refered to as "The First
Day," for only then does the new record of transgressions begin (Medrash as
cited by Tur 581).
Is it in fact possible for every member of the Jewish people to pass
through these four days without a single aveirah? Especially when caught up
with the hustle and bustle of purchasing a lulav and esrog and building a
sukkah, one could very easily stumble and commit a transgression such as
damaging merchandise or disturbing the neighbors at night.
From the words of Chazal, it is clear that even if a Jew commits a sin
during these days, HaShem immediately forgives it. Our Sages reveal to us
that Yom Kippur does not end after Ne'ilah, but actually continues for a
total of five days - until the start of the Yom Tov of Sukkos (Biyur HaGra
524: 5). How can we understand this?
After much pleading for forgiveness from his loved one, a person will
usually agree to overlook the other's misdeeds. Yet we all know that this
concession does not mean that the closeness the two once shared has been
fully restored. Only if the wrongdoer makes special efforts to show his
love for the offended party can he hope to regain that affection.
Yom Kippur and the days that precede it are days of repentance
characterized by fear and awe. During this time, the Jewish people fast in
order to demonstrate their sincere regret over their transgressions of the
previous year. The four days following Yom Kippur are also days of
repentance, but now we are in a totally different emotional state. Complete
involvement with the mitzvos of sukkah and dalet minim, the four species,
shows our tremendous devotion to our beloved King. HaShem responds by
extending the atonement that began during Yom Kippur (Shlah HaKodesh,
Maseches Sukkah, 193b ).
After a whole day of fasting and prayer, we can understand that someone
would want to "take a break" before engaging in a new endeavor. The
halachah cautions us against such a response, directing those who are
scrupulous about their mitzvah observance to start building the sukkah
immediately (Rema 624: 5). By beginning with the mitzvah of sukkah as soon
as we have finished the avodah of Yom Kippur, we actualize King David's
words: "They go from strength to strength" (Tehillim 84: 8).
The poskim mention the option of learning the Gemara or the halachos of
Sukkos as a substitute for actually starting to build the sukkah (Aruch
HaShulchan 624: 7). Alternatively, one can discuss these topics with his
family members (Kaf HaChaim 624: 35). Once, after an extremely fervent Yom
Kippur in the company of the Vilna Gaon, one of the Gaon's students
inquired as to when they would be putting up the "first stake" of the
sukkah. The Gaon took out a volume of Maseches Sukkah and started to learn
with him. Toward the end of the night, when they had completed the entire
tractate, the Gra commented: "I think we managed to get a "stake" in the
sukkah" (Rav Shlomo Brevda).
Even if a person decides to learn the halachos of sukkah right after Yom
Kippur, he should not put off building the sukkah more than one night. Even
if the day after Yom Kippur is erev Shabbos, he should get up early to
complete his sukkah (Mishnah Berurah 625: 2).
With all the mitzvos that we must attend to after Yom Kippur, one would
think that it would be a good idea to get a head start by building the
sukkah beforehand. Although this might sound very practical, Chazal advise
us against doing so. In the event that we have been sentenced by HaShem to
receive the punishment of galus, exile, we can fulfill this punishment
through building the sukkah (Elya Rabbah 624). Some maintain that since the
principal act of building the sukkah is the placement of the schach - so as
long as one saves this job for after Yom Kippur, he may build the walls of
the sukkah beforehand (Birkei Yosef).
"After a person has been appointed dayan of the community, it is forbidden
for him to perform manual labor in front of three people" (Kiddushin 70a
according to Yam Shel Shlomo 4: 4; Choshen Mishpat 8: 4). In view of this
teaching, may a dayan construct a sukkah? Since there is no greater honor
than involving oneself with HaShem's commandments, even the greatest talmid
chacham may build a sukkah in front of others (Sha'arei Teshuvah 625).
One year Yom Kippur fell on a Thursday, and on erev Shabbos the Maharil
went to visit his teacher, the Marharam. Although the Maharil was one of
the Maharam's closest disciples, since the Maharam was engaged in building
his sukkah he did not have time to talk to his close talmid or to any of
the other people who had lined up to consult with him on matters of
halachah. Quoting Chazal's injunction, "A mitzvah that comes one's way
should not be left to sour" (Mechilta, Parshas Bo), the Maharam put all
other considerations aside (Maharil, Hilchos Sukkah p. 50).
"Go and eat your bread with joy and drink wine with a good heart, for
HaShem is delighted with your actions" (Koheles 9: 7). All year long, a
wall of sin separates us from our Father in Heaven. After the conclusion of
Yom Kippur, the Jewish people are cleansed of their transgressions and the
barrier falls away.
How do we celebrate this joyous occasion? Chazal tell us that after Yom
Kippur a Heavenly voice proclaims the words of the above verse, urging us
to share HaShem's pleasure through a festive meal. This this seudah
following the fast takes on the status of a semi-Yom Tov meal (Tosafos
Yeshanim, Yoma 87b).
Does this seudas mitzvah take precedence over building the sukkah? The
poskim write that if a person has the strength to do so, he should perform
some small act connected with the construction of the sukkah even before he
sits down to eat (Kaf HaChaim 624: 36). After the meal, those who are
scrupulous in their mitzvah observance should try to continue building the
sukkah (Responsa Devar Yehoshua 2: 17).
"Between Yom Kippur and Sukkos is a time of special joy. We do not say
Tachanun and we do not fast, even on the occasion of a parent's yahrtzeit.
These days are joyful not only because HaShem does not consider our
transgressions during this time, but also because during this period King
Solomon completed building the Beis HaMikdash." (Levush 624: 15).
Although these days have a festive atmosphere, and marriages may not take
place on Yom Tov (with the exception of erev Yom Tov), a chasan and kallah
are permitted to get married between Yom Kippur and Sukkos. Aside from the
practical difficulties of organizing a wedding during this hectic time,
weddings are generally not held on erev Yom Tov since the wedding banquet
would continue into the holiday itself, inevitably interfering with the
simcha of the mo'ed (Magen Avraham 546: 4).
Do a chasan and kallah fast before their chuppah if they get married during
these days? One of the main reasons that a bride and groom refrain from
eating on their wedding day is because the wedding day is compared to Yom
Kippur. Since the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos already resemble Yom
Kippur in that HaShem does not record one's unintentional transgressions, a
chasan and kallah who feel that fasting will weaken them may be lenient
with regard to this fast (Mateh Efraim and Elef LeMagen 625: 2).
Days of Devotion
On Yom Kippur, the Jewish people were forgiven for the sin of the golden
calf and were given the second set of luchos. Yet even after this
tremendous act of pardon, we still did not know if we had found favor in
HaShem's eyes. During the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, the Jewish
people gave away much of the wealth that they had taken from Egypt, for the
sake of building the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert. On Sukkos,
HaShem responded by showing His intense love for us when He returned the
Clouds of Glory (commentary of the Vilna Gaon on Shir HaShirim 1: 4).
Every year from Elul until Yom Kippur, we toil to repair our relationship
with our Creator. When Yom Kippur ends, although we are cleansed of our
aveiros, our job is not complete. Between Yom Kippur and Sukkos we engage
ourselves completely in mitzvos in order to encourage HaShem to show His
deep love for us. Perhaps these four days are the most critical in the
entire Jewish calendar, for they determine the true extent of our devotion
to HaShem. The intense love that is meant to exist between us cannot return
until our actions match up to our prayers.
The Chasam Sofer was known for his incredible diligence; he would not
squander even a moment of time from his Torah learning. Nevertheless, he
wrote an entire book of songs. When his son the, K'sav Sofer, was asked
where his father found the time to compose these verses, he replied that
during the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos his father had been so
totally overwhelmed with powerful feelings of love toward his Creator that
he had difficulty learning Torah. In an attempt to express his deepfelt
sentiments, he penned those words (Nachlei Binah, p. 8).
In the merit of our serving HaShem with devotion, may He show His true love
to us, His children, and bring us all back to His Home quickly.
Priceless Integrity, Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org.
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