Yom Kippur 5781


The foreseen repentance[1]

והיתה-זאת לכם לחקת עולם לכפר על-בני ישראל מכל-חטאתם אחת בשנה וגו’

This shall be for you an eternal decree, to atone for the Jewish people for all of their sins, once a year…[2]

There is a Midrash which teaches[3] us that on Motzei Yom Kippur, when the Holiest day of the year ends, a Heavenly voice declares: “Go out and eat your bread with joy! Drink your wine with a merry heart! As G-d has already accepted your actions”[4]. This teaches us that we should feel confident after Yom Kippur that our sincere efforts for repentance were accepted. However, the phrasing of this teaching is a little odd. If it said “G-d has accepted your actions”, that would have been fine. What does it mean that “G-d has already accepted your actions”? Seemingly, this only just happened today.

One of the classic theological questions in Judaism is the paradoxical conflict between Hashem’s perfect knowledge of the future, and our complete ability of free will[5]. How can we have free choice, if Hashem’s knowledge of the future seemingly should “force” our actions to fit that knowledge? One answer[6] is that although Hashem knows the future, that future isn’t inevitable. Our actions are independent of His knowledge. Hashem’s knowledge doesn’t in fact force our actions[7]. An analogy would be if you were to be standing on a windowsill and you saw someone walking. Your knowledge of their walking doesn’t force the person to be walking. That’s their choice. The same is true with Hashem’s knowledge of the future. Even though He sees the future, it doesn’t force the future[8].

Two more important facts will shed light on this Midrash. One, is the Torah tells us[9] that if we follow Hashem’s decrees, He will give us our rain in its proper time. This can be understood[10] according to a story that Chazal relate[11] about Alexander the Great. He is quoted as saying that if the people aren’t worthy, then the rain is solely for the sake of the animals. This is why the verse stresses our rain, because otherwise it’s the animals’ rain. Two, is that it’s part of human psychology that a person would rather earn their food than for someone to give them a handout[12]. It’s embarrassing to be dependent on others. With this background we can begin to understand the Midrash we started with.

If a person properly spent Yom Kippur, contemplating all the sins they did over the year, thoroughly regretting them and sincerely repenting, they can be assured that Hashem forgave them. The evening after Yom Kippur, they return home to break their fast. As they sit down to their meal, perhaps they won’t feel comfortable with the thought of eating. Sure, Hashem just completely forgave them, but what about when this food first grew in the ground? This loaf of bread, while it was still wheat in the fields, was before the person repented. They were still a sinner, and that means that the rain didn’t fall in their merit. It fell solely for the animals! In a sense, this bread isn’t really theirs. How could they eat it?

To this the Midrash declares that Hashem has already accepted their actions. Meaning, Hashem obviously knows the future. Indeed, when this bread was still wheat in the ground, the person hadn’t yet repented. However, Hashem knew that they eventually would! As such, the rain that fell on the wheat was also in their merit. The wording Midrash is then very precise. Go and eat with joy! Don’t despair at the thought of eating bread that’s not yours. It is your bread! Don’t say your food grew while you were still a sinner, and came about in the merits of the animals. For Hashem has already forgiven you.

Gemar Chasima Tovah

[1] Based on Sefer Apiryon to Leviticus 16:34, by Rav Shlomo Gantzfried, the author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch

[2] Leviticus loc. cit.

[3] Koheles Rabbah 9:7. Tosafos to Yoma 87b s.v. והאמר brings this Midrash. It is also brought in many halachic sources, such as Semag Lavin § 69, Abudraham Ta’am HaTekiah BeMotzei Yom HaKippurim, Hagah at the end of Mishneh Torah Hilchos Shvisas Asor s.v. מה שנהגו תלקוע, brought by the Beis Yosef to Tur Orach Chaim § 624 s.v. ומ”ש שתקיעה זו (the Beis Yosef seems to attribute this to Hagahos Maimoniyos). The Beis Yosef s.v. ואוכלין ושותין thinks this is also what the Tur is quoting. Rav Gantzfried himself brings it in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 133:29

[4] Ecclesiastes 9:7

[5] See Avos 3:15. The following is a selection of classical sources which attempt to address this paradox: Rav Saadiah Gaon in Emunos V’Deos 4:5, Rambam in Mishneh Torah Hilchos Teshuva 5:5 and Ra’avad ad. loc., Rabbeinu Bachaye in Chovos HaLevavos Sha’ar Avodas HaElokim Chapter 8, Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi in Kuzari 5:20

[6] Rav Shlomo Gantzfried brings this explanation from Midrash Shmuel to Avos loc. cit., citing Rav Moshe Almasnino (16th century) in his Pirkei Moshe ad. loc. (in the version I saw its listed as mishnah 19 s.v. כן ידיעתו יתברך). This explanation was preceded by Kuzari loc. cit. It argues on the Rambam’s understanding of Hashem’s knowledge, that it is perfect to the point that it forces man’s actions to fit that knowledge. This understanding creates the paradox in the first place

[7] Rav Shlomo Gantzfried quotes his contemporary Rav Aharon Reisman, the author of Beis Aharon, who says this explains a line in a piyyut we say in Kedusha of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (that starts האוחז ביד): הצופה לרשע וחפץ בהצדקו. Even though Hashem sees that this person is wicked, that doesn’t contradict their ability to choose to become righteous

[8] I find this easier to understand if we take the concept of time travel into account. If someone were to travel back in time and witness a well-known event, such as the assassination of a famous figure, nothing would change. The time traveler’s knowledge isn’t forcing the events to take place. They take place because of the choices and actions of those in the past. Knowing how things will play out doesn’t remove the free will of the shooter. The same would be true of Hashem’s knowledge of the future. It’s akin to Hashem “traveling back in time” to the present, since He is above time

[9] Leviticus 26:3-4

[10] Rav Shlomo Gantzfried cites this explanation from אמ”ו, the author of Tiv Gitin, Rav Ephraim Margaliyos zt”l. My guess is אמ”ו stands for אדוני מורי ורבי, my lord my master my teacher

[11] Bereishis Rabbah 33:1; Vayikra Rabbah 27:1; Midrash Tanchuma Emor § 6; Tanchuma Yashan Emor § 9 Yerushalmi Bava Metzia 2:5

[12] This is known as נהמא דכיסופא. See also Yerushalmi Orlah 1:3: מאן דאכיל דלאו דידיה בהית לאסתכלא באפיו