Masechet Yoma 86a-88b

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30 Aug 2006

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Yoma 86a-b

As we approach the end of Masechet Yoma, the Gemara turns to the most essential issue of this holy day – the atonement offered by Yom Kippur itself and the teshuva – repentance – associated with this time of year.

In a series of statements of Amoraim praising the attributes of teshuva, two statements made by Resh Lakish (who was, himself, a famous ba’al teshuva) are presented. In one of them Resh Lakish argues (based on the passage in Hoshea 14:2) that teshuva changes zedonot – sinful acts done on purpose – to shegagot – acts done by accident. In the second statement, (based on Yechezkel 33:19) he teaches that through the good offices of teshuva, zedonot are turned into zekhuyot – positive attributes.

To answer this apparent contradiction, the Gemara distinguishes between teshuva that is done because of love – when zedonot turn into zekhuyot – and when it is done out of fear of punishment – when zedonot become shegagot.

How can evil deeds become good ones?

The Maharsha suggests what is, perhaps, the simplest explanation: that someone who repents out of his love for God is inspired by his past behaviors to be more meticulous than others in his accomplishments in the realm of Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvot. Thus it is as though his sins are the driving force behind his drive to perform mitzvot, so the sins can be seen as having positive merit. Furthermore, the Maharil Habib points out in his Tosafot Yom ha-Kippurim that a person who, by doing teshuva, overcomes his desire to perform a sinful act is, by definition, accomplishing a more difficult task than someone who has never sinned and does not have the same desire. The ba’al teshuva is rewarded for overcoming this desire, a reward that stems from the performance of the original sin.

Rav Yehuda describes a ba’al teshuva as someone who is faced with the same scenario that led him to sin in the past, but overcomes his desire and refrains from committing the sin. The Rambam claims that finding oneself in the exact same situation – that is to say, being given the opportunity to do teshuva – is one of the indications that your teshuva has been accepted, something that not everyone merits.

Yoma 87a-b

The Gemara continues with a series of teachings about teshuva, the central issue of Yom Kippur.

A baraita on our daf (=page) teaches that the mitzvah of viduy – confession – begins on the eve of Yom Kippur at dusk. Nevertheless, the Sages recommend that a person recite viduy prior to the final meal before the fast begins, shema titaref da’ato ba-se’udah – lest he become “confused” during the meal.

Rashi explains that the concern is that the individual may become drunk during the pre-fast meal and he will neglect to recite his prayers properly in the evening. The Rambam, based on a variant reading of this baraita, explains that the concern is that the individual may choke during the meal and will not have the opportunity to say a proper viduy. The accepted practice today is for the individual to include viduy at the end of his Amidah at mincha prior to the meal, although the chazzan does not say it out loud during the repetition of the prayer.  In addition, a number of special prayers and piyutim are recited after the meal is completed.

The baraita continues, teaching that even though viduy was recited before Yom Kippur began, it is repeated during the evening prayers, again in the morning service (shacharit), the additional service (Mussaf), the afternoon service (mincha) and finally in the special closing service (Ne’ilah). The individual who says viduy in his own Amidah recites it at the very end of each prayer; during the chazzan‘s repetition of the amida, when it is said together with the entire congregation, it is recited in the middle of the prayer.

The Maharil Habib suggests in his Tosafot Yom ha-Kippurim that the difference between the individual and the congregation stems from the fact that the individual may not say his prayers with proper intent so he needs to include that transgression in viduy. The concern in the case of the repetition is that perhaps the congregation has fulfilled its obligation by listening to the chazzan, and if the viduy is left for the end they may no longer be paying attention.

Yoma 88a-b

In the context of defining what comprises the special Ne’ilah prayer on Yom Kippur, the Gemara on our daf (=page) brings a baraita that discusses people who go to the mikvah to immerse themselves on Yom Kippur. (Remember that washing is one of the five inuyim – activities forbidden on Yom Kippur if they are done for pleasure – that are enumerated at the beginning of this perek, or chapter – see 73b.) According to the baraita, anyone who is obligated to immerse in the mikvah can do so on Yom Kippur, based on the principle that tevila bizmanah mitzvah – there is an obligation to purify oneself in the mikvah at the time when one is able to do so.

One of the people listed as being obligated to immerse is a ba’al keri – someone who has experienced a seminal emission. The obligation to immerse in the mikvah in this case is based on the assumption that a person cannot participate in prayer or Torah study if he does not purify himself, making such purification essential for participation in the Yom Kippur synagogue service.

This assumption stems from one of takkanot Ezra – one of the rules that Ezra ha-Sofer established during the early part of the Second Temple period – whose intent was to limit the amount of time that a committed Jew would spent engaged in sexual relations (even with his own wife). Already during the time of the later tanna’im and early Amoraim (after the destruction of the Second Temple) this takana was no longer kept for a variety of reasons. Still there are many who continue to keep this tradition even today. The Me’iri claims that, in his time, there were individuals who continued practicing tevilat (=the immersion of) Ezra and would even go the mikvah on Yom Kippur itself, if necessary.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.