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Special Observances during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva

Author: Rabbi Josh Flug
Article Date: Wednesday September 16, 2009

 
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Special Observances during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva


The ten days from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur are known as the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the ten days of repentance.  The Gemara, Rosh HaShanah 18a, states that the verse (Yeshayahu 55:6) that states to call out to G-d when he is close refers to the Aseret Yemei Teshuva.  There are a number of practices that are observed during these days.  In this issue, we will present a discussion about these practices and the common theme that is apparent in all of these practices. 


The Recitation of HaMelech HaKadosh and HaMelech HaMishpat


The Gemara, Berachot 12b, notes that during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the beracha of "HaKel HaKadosh" should be changed to "HaMelech HaKadosh" and the beracha of "Melech Oheiv Tzedakah UMishpat" should be changed to "HaMelech HaMishpat."  The Gemara has a further discussion regarding whether one must return to that beracha if he did not recite the special formulation.


Most Rishonim rule in accordance with the opinion that one must return to the beracha if it was not recited properly.  R. Eliezer ben R. Yoel HaLevi, (Ra'aviah c. 1140-1220), Avi HaEzri no. 40, rules that one is not required to return to the beracha.  R. Yosef Karo (1488-1575) Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 582:1, rules in accordance with the majority opinion.  He adds that there is a difference between a mistake in HaMelech HaKadosh and a mistake in HaMelech HaMishpat.  The beracha of HaMelech HaKadosh is part of the first three berachot which is considered a single unit.  Therefore, if one did not recite HaMelech HaKadosh, he must return to the beginning of the Amidah.  If one did not recite HaMelech HaMishpat, he returns to the beginning of that beracha.


Rabbeinu Yonah (d. 1263), in Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, Berachot 7a, s.v. UMihu, notes another difference between the two berachot.  He contends that the critical factor is mentioning G-d as King (melech).  Therefore, one who recited "Melech Oheiv Tzedakah UMishpat" is not required to return to the beracha because his recitation of the word "melech" is sufficient.  This is significant from a practical perspective since the ordinary recitation is "Melech Oheiv Tzedakah UMishpat," and it is unlikely that someone would omit the word "melech."  As such, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, the discussion about returning to the beracha is only practically relevant to one who recited "HaKel HaKadosh" instead of "HaMelech HaKadosh."  R. Karo, Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim no. 582, notes that most Rishonim do not present this distinction which indicates that they disagree with Rabbeinu Yonah.  R. Karo himself in Shulchan Aruch, op. cit., does not present this distinction.  Nevertheless, Rama, Orach Chaim 118:1, accepts Rabbeinu Yonah's distinction as a matter of Halacha.



Acceptance of Additional Stringencies


The laws of ritual purity only relate to certain areas of Halacha.  It is permissible to eat non-sacrosanct food (chullin) while one is ritually impure.  Nevertheless, in times when the laws of ritually impurity were observed, it was considered praiseworthy to refrain from eating chullin while one was ritually impure.  The Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbat 1:3, states that if one cannot observe this practice the entire year, he should at least observe it seven days of the year.  Korban HaEdah ad loc., explains that the Yerushalmi is referring to the seven days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.  There was no need to encourage this practice on Rosh HaShanah because people would generally purify themselves for the holiday.


Rabbeinu Nissim (1320-1380), Rosh HaShanah 12b, s.v. Garsinan B'Yerushalmi, notes that based on the comments of the Talmud Yerushalmi, there are those who are meticulous to refrain from pat palter (bread baked by non-Jewish baker) during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva.  [The concept of pat palter was discussed in a previous issue.]  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 603:1, writes that it is common practice to refrain from eating pat palter during these days, even if one is not normally stringent on the matter.


The extension of the practice from eating chullin with ritual purity to refraining from pat palter seems to be indicative of a value of accepting stringencies during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, even if one does not plan on continuing these stringencies after Yom Kippur.  Rabbeinu Mano'ach (13th-14th century), Hilchot Chametz U'Matzah 1:5, writes that it is appropriate to accept other stringencies during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva.  [See Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 603:2, who notes that one should only accept stringencies that are clearly permissible and their observance is only considered an enhancement (hidur).  One should not accept the stringent opinion of a halachic dispute because it does not make sense to accept such a stringency during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva and not after Yom Kippur.] 


The Common Theme of the Aseret Yemei Teshuva Observances


There are a number of other additional observances during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva.  First, Rambam (1135-1204), Hilchot Teshuva 3:4, writes that during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva one should increase his involvement in tzedakah (charity), good deeds and mitzvot.  Second, Rambam notes the practice of reciting Selichot during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva.  Third, Rama (1520-1572), Orach Chaim 602:1, writes that the prayer "Avinu Malkeinu" (Our Father, Our King) is added to the prayer services of Shacharit and Mincha.


The ultimate goal of practices during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva should be to repent.  Yet, the observances presented above do not seem to reflect that theme.  The formulation of "HaMelech HaKadosh" and "HaMelech HaMishpat" seems to be an extension of the theme of Rosh HaShanah- the coronation of G-d as King of the Universe.  The acceptance of additional stringencies is ostensibly not a form of teshuva because teshuva requires that one change one's ways permanently.  Increasing one's involvement in good deeds, while commendable, will not affect one's judgment on Yom Kippur because those deeds will be accounted for in the new year and not the previous year.  How then, do these observances relate to teshuva?             


R. Yitzchak Y. Borodianski, Siach Yitzchak, Moadim pp. 153-156, notes that there is a common theme among all of these observances.  This theme can best be understood by presenting two ideas from earlier sources.  First, R. Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883 cited in Likutei Ya'akov pg. 18) posits that the reason why Rosh HaShanah precedes Yom Kippur is that the judgment of Rosh HaShanah on the physical is a necessary stepping stone to the proper spiritual mindset required for the repentance of Yom Kippur.  Second, Rambam, op. cit., writes that that one of the messages of the shofar is that one should improve one's deeds.  As such, R. Borodianski explains that coronating G-d as the King of the Universe Who judges all of mankind is a necessary prerequisite for complete repentance.  Similarly, improving one's actions is a prerequisite for complete repentance.  The observances of the Aseret Yemei Teshuva are not components of teshuva, but rather its prerequisites.  The formulation of "HaMelech HaKadosh" and "HaMelech HaMishpat" as well as the recitation of "Avinu Malkeinu" are a continuation of the coronation process.  Accepting additional stringencies and increasing one's involvement in good deeds are ways in which one can improve and elevate oneself in order to perform teshuva properly.