Erev Yom Kippur is a time filled with awe and trepidation as Klal Yisrael prepares for the holiest day of the year.
It is also a day that we are required to eat and drink, and Chazal teach us that whoever does so is considered as if he fasted the ninth and tenth days of Tishrei.
The Apta Rav, zy”a, in his sefer Ohev Yisrael, gives a very illuminating explanation:
The purpose of a fast day is for people to overrule their own desire for food and totally submit themselves to the Will of Hashem.
On Erev Yom Kippur, as each Yid reflects back on the past year and bitterly regrets his misdeeds, he has no appetite for food or drink. To the contrary, what he would really like to do is limit his food intake in the hope that such deprivation will help earn him the kapparah that he so desperately wants and sorely needs.
Therefore, the Torah tells us that it is precisely on this day — when we would much prefer not to eat — that we should break our desires and eat and drink.
This concept, of choosing to do what the Ribbono shel Olam wants instead of what we desire, is one of the most important elements of every area of avodas Hashem.
In the final hours before Yom Kippur, all of us seek extra zechuyos to take with us to shul. Countless acts of chessed and tzedakah are performed during these hours.
One incredible zechus is the act of forgiveness. One of the hardest things for a human being to do is to truly forgive those who have wronged him or her, especially when the offender hasn’t even asked for forgiveness. In the Tefillah Zakah, which many recite in the moments before Kol Nidrei, we specifically address this point, declaring our forgiveness and hoping that others will forgive us.
The Rebbe, Reb Zusha of Annipoli, zy”a, once found himself on a public fast day (such as Shivah Asar B’Tammuz) in a guesthouse where large loaves of bread were being baked. It was still in the middle of the day when the Rebbe, Reb Zushe, continued on his way. Later on, the host realized that one of the large loaves was missing. He immediately concluded that it was the poor man who had been there earlier who must have taken it. He set off in pursuit, and soon encountered the Rebbe, Reb Zushe.
Ignorant of the greatness of the man he was accusing, he demanded that he return the stolen loaf at once. The Rebbe, Reb Zushe, assured him that he had not stolen anything. The host, however, was so convinced that this was indeed the culprit, he concluded that the Rebbe, Reb Zushe, must have eaten up the whole bread that afternoon.
“I will teach you not to steal, and not to eat on a taanis!” the host declared, and began to beat the Rebbe, Reb Zushe, mercilessly.
After he was satisfied that he had taught the “thief” a “double lesson,” the host returned home.
The Rebbe, Reb Zushe, spoke directly to the Ribbono shel Olam. “Zushe will not daven Minchah,” he threatened, “until You forgive this Yid!”
The Rebbe, Reb Zushe, completely forgave the Yid for his outrageous act, but he also insisted that the Ribbono shel Olam forgive him as well.
Tzaddikim related that this act of forgiveness evoked such an eis ratzon in Shamayim that half the sins of the world were forgiven at that moment!
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In the merit of all the tzaddikim over the generations, and in the merit of the mesirus nefesh and acts of chessed constantly being exhibited by Klal Yisrael, may we, too, merit that the Ribbono shel Olam should forgive us and grant each of us a gmar chasimah tovah.