(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 604:1) rules that there is a Torah Mitzvah on Erev Yom Kippur to do the following three things: eat, drink, and have a festive food-filled meal. Women also are obligated in this Mitzvah, although some Achronim (e.g. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the Rashash) expressed doubt about this point.
Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 4:9) indicates that this meal should be served and eaten exactly as one would eat a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal. Although the Shla writes that Lechem Mishna should be used, the custom is not to require it.
Rashi (Rosh Hashana 9a) explains that the reason for this Torah Mitzvah is on account of Hashem’s love for us. He commanded this Mitzvah to His children so that we would be able to tolerate the fasting.Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 4:10) explains that it is so that we can better focus on our prayers and on how we can do Teshuvah.
Indeed, the Gemorah in Brachos (8a) instructs us that we should limit our learning slightly on this day in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Most authorities hold that there is no Mitzvah of eating on the night prior to Yom Kippur. The Shla HaKadosh, however, did write to eat the night before as well.
There is a concept known as zrizim makdimim l’mitzvos that those who are alacritous — rush to do Mitzvos. This is derived in the Gemorah in Psachim (4a) from the fact that Avrohom arose early in the morning to do the Mitzvah of Bris Milah. Rav Shlomo Kluger (Shnos Chaim #64) writes that one should therefore eat the first meal very early.
On the other hand, the Chsam Sofer went to the Mikvah on Erev Yom Kippur prior to the first Seudah. Both the Otzar HaTfilos Siddur and the Yesod v’Shoresh HaAvodah siddur have a ‘l’shaim yichud” to be recited before the seudah. They also write to recite the pasuk of Vayehi Noam.
MUST ONE WASH ON BREAD FOR THE SEUDAH?
There is a debate among the Poskim as to whether there is an obligation to wash on bread for the seudos of the day. The Sdei Chemed (1 Os Hay) writes that one is obligated as does Rav Eliyahu Pinchas HaCohen of Reina (Elef HaMagain 604:42). The Minchas Chinuch (Mitzvah #313) is unsure. Others are lenient.
One last halachic point: The Minchas Chinuch holds that one only fulfills the Mitzvah with an eating that is biblically forbidden on Yom Kippur. This would include the time limit of eating known as bichdei achilas pras – generally 2-8 minutes depending upon who one paskins like.
May we all have a meaningful fast.
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