After Yom Kippur Ends

All Jewish days begin at night and end at night. Since it is unclear whether that should be at sunset or when the stars come out, for Biblical practices we take the more stringent approach. Therefore, even though Yom Kippur begins before sunset,
it ends the next day after the stars come out. Thus, the Holiday lasts about 25 or so hours (depending on where you live, and other factors).

The time of stars coming out means the time when you should be able to see three medium-sized stars in the sky (that is, the time that you would be able to see them where there is no light pollution and where there are no clouds to block out their visibility).

The night after Yom Kippur ends is called «Motza Yom Kippur,» which means «the exiting of Yom Kippur.» This is the standard term used, as in Motza Shabbos (Saturday night after the Sabbath ends), or Motza Yom Tov (at night after a Jewish Holiday has ended).

After Yom Kippur ends, we must say Havdalah, the «Separation Recital,» before we may eat or do much of anything. In those synagogues where they say Havdalah in the synagogue after Shabbos ends, they should do the same thing after Yom Kippur ends.

Havdalah is said over a goblet of wine, as usual. However, we do not say the usual Brachah (Blessing) over b’somim, the sweet-smelling spices or leaves, and we do not smell them. (1)

However, we do say the Brachah over the torch, as is usually said during Havdalah after Shabbos. (2) This is unlike Havdalah after every other Yom Tov (Jewish Holiday), when we say the entire Havdalah but omit the blessing over the torch.

Furthermore, on Motza Yom Kippur, unlike Motza Shabbos, we may say the brachah for the torch only over fire that has been burning the entire Yom Kippur. We do not light a new fire for this brachah in Havdalah. (3)

This begs several questions. One, why must we use a fire that has been burning since before Yom Kippur, and why may we not light a new one? Secondly, why do we say this brachah over a torch after Yom Kippur, when we don’t say it during Havdalah after any other Yom Tov? Doesn’t it belong to the ending of Shabbos?

In order to answer these two questions, let us examine the reasons for saying this brachah at both these times, Motza Shabbos, and Motza Yom Kippur.

The reason that we say the Brachah over a torch on Motza Shabbos is because Motza Shabbos was the very first time that humanity ever experienced fire.

Adam and Eve sinned on the very first day they were created, Erev Shabbos (the day before Shabbos, i.e., the first Friday). According to the Midrash of Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer, Hashem allowed them to stay in Eden over Shabbos. They were expelled from Eden on Motza Shabbos.

That was the first time they ever experienced the dark and cold. At that time, Hashem had mercy on them, and taught them how to make fire. They had never needed it before. Adam, coached by Hashem, took two stones, and made a fire. Adam then thanked Hashem for this. This took place on the very first Motza Shabbos after Creation. Therefore, every Motza Shabbos, we thank Hashem for the creation of fire.

Now, that does not apply on Motza Yom Kippur, since fire was not first given to humanity on Motza Yom Kippur.

On Motza Yom Kippur, the reason for saying that brachah is very different. We are actually saying this Brachah to show that manipulating fire was forbidden during that day, and is now permitted. This is a very different reason than the reason for saying it on Motza Shabbos. (Manipulating fire is forbidden on Shabbos or on Yom Kippur. During every (4)Yom Tov except Yom Kippur it is forbidden to create or extinguish fire, but it is permitted to manipulate and use fire.)

Now, in order to show that it was forbidden to move fire during Yom Kippur, and now it is permitted to move it, we must use fire that was actually burning during Yom Kippur. We show that this fire existed, but we refrained from moving it or manipulating it in any way the entire Yom Kippur, and now, Motza Yom Kippur, we are using it, since it is permitted. That’s the reason for saying this brachah on Motza Yom Kippur.

Therefore, in order to say the Brachah on the torch on Motza Yom Kippur, we must use a fire that has been burning all Yom Tov. Therefore, before Yom Tov, we light a 26-hour (or longer) candle, and let it burn the entire Yom Kippur. After Yom Kippur, we take from that fire to light the torch.

On a regular Motza Shabbos, on the other hand, we may use a new fire (or an existing one, if you wish), because, after all, Adam himself made a new fire and thanked Hashem for it. But on Motza Yom Kippur, we must take from a fire that has been burning all Yom Tov.

The night after Yom Kippur is a time of joy, and a minor Jewish Holiday. (5) We eat a Yom Tov (Holiday) meal, and we rejoice. (It is suggested not to go directly from fasting to eating a major meal, but to eat a few light things, wait a while, and then eat a real meal.)

The reason that Motza Yom Kippur is a minor Yom Tov is because Hashem has promised us that if we repent and pray on Yom Kippur, our sins will be forgiven. Therefore, says the Midrash, when we leave the synagogue on Motza Yom Kippur a voice in Heaven calls out the verse in Ecclesiastes (6), «Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with gladness, for Hashem has already approved your deeds.» (7)

Those who are careful about the Mitzvos try, if they are able, to start building their Sukkah on Motza Yom Kippur (after eating), in order to move immediately from one Mitzvah to another Mitzvah. My late father, of blessed memory, used to nail up one board in place, just to get it started.

One should preferably try and finish the rest of the Sukkah the next day, if possible. (8) The reason cited there is that if a Mitzvah comes your way, you should not let it get old, but do it immediately.

Motza Yom Kippur is a transition into the Holiday of Sukkos, which is a period of joy, since we know that we have been forgiven.


1. Shulchan Aruch 624:3
2. Mechaber 624:4
3. Mechaber 624:5
4. As explained by the Mishnah Brurah 624:7.
5. Rema 624:5
6. 9:7
7. Mishnah Brurah 624:15
8. Mishnah Brurah, citing the Rema in 625:1

Yom Kippur Customs

Yom Kippur atones for many sins, if we repent them. Therefore, Yom Kippur is a day of repentance. On Yom Kippur we are required to confess our sins to Hashem, but not to any human being.

When you commit a sin against Hashem, you must regret the sin, resolve never to do it again, and on Yom Kippur you must confess the sin and ask Hashem for forgiveness.

When you commit a sin that hurts another human being, you have sinned against both Hashem and that person. It is then necessary to add a step to the repentance process. You must regret the sin, resolve never to do it again, ask that person for forgiveness, and on Yom Kippur you must confess the sin and ask Hashem for forgiveness.

It is therefore customary to ask people before Yom Kippur to forgive you for anything you may have done to hurt them. If you make an honest attempt to ask the person for forgiveness, and he refuses to forgive you, you must try at least two more times. You have to wait a few days in-between requests, and they must be in three different places, in hopes that the person will cool off and change his mind. If he still refuses to forgive you, you have at least done your part, and Hashem takes that into account.

Likewise, if a person asks you for forgiveness, you should not be stubborn and refuse to forgive him. In general, Hashem treats us the way we treat other people, so it’s always good to remember that.

On Yom Kippur we are forgiven all our sins, and therefore we are absolutely pure, like angels. It is therefore the custom to wear white clothing, to appear like angels. It is also one of the many reasons we are forbidden to eat on Yom Kippur, since angels do not eat.

On Yom Kippur we fast, but it is forbidden to fast on Erev Yom Kippur — the day before Yom Kippur. In fact, Jewish Law states that we must feast on the day before Yom Kippur. The Talmud says that whoever feasts on the day before Yom Kippur is given merit and considered to have fasted two days!

Aside from breakfast, we eat two festive meals on Erev Yom Kippur. We eat one meal in the early afternoon or late morning, and another after Minchah (the afternoon services). That one extends until late afternoon, and must end no later than about fifteen minutes before sunset.

There is a custom among many people to eat kreplach on the day before Yom Kippur. Kreplach are bits of meat hidden in pockets of dough (sort of like won tons), and they are eaten in soup. The reason for this is that we hope and pray that G-d will hide our sins when we repent. (Eating kreplach is not a Law, by the way, so if you can’t eat them for some reason, never mind.)

There isn’t much to say about the customs of Yom Kippur itself. We spend the day in the synagogue praying, and all the instructions for that are in the prayer books. The best prayer book for the Holiday is probably the one put out by Artscroll. I use it myself. A good place to get it and other good books is Tiferes Stam. (Please note that I get no benefit at all from your shopping there. It just happens that I respect the owner of that store, and I consider him to be very honest and reliable.)

The prayer book for a Holiday is called a machzor, which means a “cycle.” Judaism teaches that the year is a repeating cycle in which the same holiness occurs each year and each week. Each and every Sabbath of the year, for example, has the same holiness and blessings of the very first
Sabbath of Creation. Each and every Yom Kippur of each and every year has the very same holiness as the very first Yom Kippur ever, the one observed by the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert, 3,311 years ago. And each and every Yom Kippur of each and every year is just as conducive to our repentance being accepted.

Every day of the year we pray at least three main prayers. On Biblical Holidays, we pray four main prayers. On Yom Kippur we pray five main prayers.

The first is prayed the evening of Yom Kippur, and begins with Kol Nidrei. It continues with maariv, a slightly different version of that which we pray every night of the year.

The second is the morning Shacharis prayer. This too, has some slight differences, due to the Holiday.

The third is the Mussaf prayer, the “additional” service. Every Biblical Holiday has its own version of this prayer. Yom Kippur’s deals mostly with our repentance and our being forgiven.

The fourth is Mincha, the afternoon service. We pray Minchah every day, but of course the version prayed on any Holiday is very different than the version we pray every day.

The fifth and final prayer for Yom Kippur is unique to Yom Kippur, and is never prayed at any other time. It is called Ne’ilah, which means “closing.” It is prayed just as the sun begins to reach the tops of the trees, and the day is about to come to a close. (However, Yom Kippuer is not over until the sky is dark and the stars come out.) At that closing of the day, we wish to grab the last opportunity of attaining the greatness that this holy day offers us, by repenting fully before the day ends. Yes, you can repent any time and every time, but Yom Kippur grants us what few other days, if any, can grant us.

After Yom Kippur ends, we are required to recite or hear Havdalah over wine before we are allowed to eat anything. The Havdalah service declares the separation between the holy and mundane days, and Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year.

As we leave the synagogue at the end of Yom Kippur, we bless each other with “A good and blessed year.”

The Meaning and Laws of Yom Kippur

The Torah tells us about Yom Kippur:

This shall be an eternal law for you: Each year on the 10th day of the 7th month you must afflict yourselves and not do any melachah. This is true for both the native born and the convert to Judaism who joins you. This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before G-d you will be cleansed of all your sins. It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you, and a day upon which you must afflict yourselves. This is a law for all time.

— Leviticus 16:29-31

Well, now, there is a lot to explain about those verses, so we’ll take them one at a time.

The seventh month is Tishrei, and the tenth day of Tishrei is the day we call Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Actually, the Torah calls it Yom Kippurim, a Day of Atonements (Leviticus 23:28, et al). Apparently, we can achieve atonement for many things on that one day.

Affliction does not mean that you should invent creative means of torturing yourself. The Torah outlines five forms of affliction for Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur it is forbidden to:

  1. Eat or drink

  2. bathe or wash

  3. wear leather shoes, leather sandals or any other leather footgear

  4. have marital relations

  5. anoint oneself

(Annointing refers to rubbing or applying on one’s body any substance — such as oil, soap, alcohol, hair tonic, cream, ointment, perfume, etc., unless it’s for medical reasons).

Those are the basic categories of “affliction” required on Yom Kippur.

What is melachah? Well, that is a complex thing, and that needs mountains of explanations. The Torah forbids on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur 39 categories of creative activities. On most Holidays, some of those acts are permitted, but not on Yom Kippur.

To return to the verse we are studying:

“For on this day you shall have all your sins atoned . . .” On Yom Kippur, we are guaranteed to have our sins atoned, if we repent. You can’t get a better deal anywhere! Hashem personally forgives each and every sin you have committed, if you confess the sin, and determine to try to never commit it again. We are cleansed and purified, and we can become as if we had never sinned at all!

The Talmud has a beautiful passage about this.

Rabbi Akiva taught: Fortunate are you, Children of Israel! Before Whom are you cleansed, Who cleanses you? Your Father in heaven! As it says, “I will sprinkle upon you clean water, and you will be cleansed of all your impurities . . .” (Ezekiel 36:25) Furthermore, it says “G-d is Israel’s hope.” [The word “hope” is a homonym of the word “mikvah,” the ritual
purification pool.] Just as the mikvah cleanses the impure, so does the Holy One, blessed is He, cleanse the Children of Israel.

— Mishnah Yoma 8:9

Because on Yom Kippur we are guaranteed to be forgiven if we repent.

And that is the primary Mitzvah of that day: to repent.

And if we repent, we are forgiven. That’s all there is to it.

A Song For Yom Kippur

The holy Berditchever Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, stood at the podium, ready to begin the final prayer of Yom Kippur — Ne’ilah. The crowd stood, hushed, awaiting the familiar strains of kaddish: Yisgadel Viyiskadesh Shmei Rabbah . . .

Instead, amazingly, the Rebbe began to sing. And this is what he sang:

Master of the Universe,
I wish to make an exchange with You.

Should You ask me what sort of exchange,
I will tell You:

I will give You our sins, errors, and transgressions,
O Father.

Should You ask me what I wish for them,
I will tell You:

You will give us forgiveness, pardon, and atonement,
O Father.

Should You think it will be an even exchange,
no, I tell You.

You will add to it “Children, Life, and Livelihood,”
O Father.

Should You ask what I mean by “Children,”
I will tell You:

“Children, and grandchildren, engaged in Torah and Mitzvos,”
O Father.

Should You ask me what I mean by “Life,”
I will tell You:

“Life, Life, in order to thank You and praise You,”
O Father.

Should You ask me what I mean by “Livelihood,”
I will tell You:

“And you shall eat, and be satisfied, and bless Hashem your G-d,”
O Father.

The Egyptians say that their idol is a god,
No, I tell You.

The Parthians say that their idol is a god,
No, I tell You.

The atheists say that there is no G-d,
There is, I tell You.

And I, Levi Yitzchok ben Sarah Sosha,

Yisgadel Viyiskadesh Shmei Rabbah . . .

And with that, the Rebbe of Berditchev began the Ne’ilah prayer.

This, then, is the relationship between G-d and the Jewish Nation. And this is what Yom Kippur is all about. We are guaranteed that if we repent, G-d will forgive us. As it says:

“Let the wicked abandon his ways and the sinner his thoughts. Let him return to G-d, Who will have mercy on him — to our G-d, who is very forgiving.”

— (Isaiah 55:7)

That is all we need — repentance. We stop doing the evil deeds, stop planning evil acts, and return to G-d.

And what do we get for it? As the Torah says:

“Come, now, let us reason together,” G-d says. “If your sins are like scarlet, they will become white as snow; if they are red as crimson, they will become like wool. If you listen and obey, you will eat the best of the land.”

— Isaiah 1:18-19

This is the purpose of Yom Kippur: to return to G-d joyfully, with a full heart.

And G-d promises to forgive, as it says:

On this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before G-d you will be cleansed of all your sins.

— Leviticus 16:30

Yom Kippur: a Day of Joy

You would think that a day on which Jews fast, a day that we are very restricted in what is permitted, would be a day of sadness. But Yom Kippur is not a day of sadness at all. It is a day of repentance, and a day of joy.

To be sure, it is not a day during which we do much dancing or partying. In fact, partying would be forbidden. But joy?

Yes, joy. On Yom Kippur we rejoice, and even more so at the closing of Yom Kippur. In fact, most Chassidim have the custom that after breaking the fast when Yom Kippur ends, they return to the synagogue and sing and dance for hours.

What is the reason for this joy and happiness?

It should not be too hard to understand the joy with which a child returns home from a long overseas voyage. The parents are happy as well.

That is what repentance means: returning “home.” When we repent and return to Hashem, there is no greater reason for joy. The time for sorrow is past, once we are returning home.

Yes, we must indeed feel regret over our sins. Yes, we must seriously ask Hashem to forgive us and to grant us a good and sweet year.

But we cannot allow that regret to control us or overwhelm us. We are not allowed to despair or to get depressed. Judaism teaches us to repent with joy, to live with joy, and above all, serve Hashem with joy and thanks.

As many Rabbis have said, “No matter what troubles a person faces, they can be overcome and removed through the joy of performing a Mitzvah.”

And that applies throughout the entire year, not just on Yom Kippur.

The Path of Repentance

Someone asked me:

I was wondering about the proper procedure of the repentance of sins. Are there certain prayers to be said? What is the true way to be forgiven? What does Judaism say about repentance?

I answered as follows:

Ultimately, the most important part of repentance is what we call «abandoning the sin.»

In essence, the classic process of repentance is:

  • realizing the error of sinning and regretting it;
  • quietly confessing it to Hashem;
  • accepting upon yourself to try not to do it again;
  • trying not to do it again.

Those are the most important factors in repentance. If you get the order wrong, Hashem will accept that also. And if you omit any of those except the last one, Hashem will accept it also. The most important element is trying to stay away from the sin.

It is also important not to focus too much on the sin(s) you committed. The important thing is to focus on doing good, thereby relinquishing sin.

Also, do not be concerned if you make a mistake and slip. No one should expect to be so perfect as to alsways keep a resolution and never make a mistake. It’s impossible. So don’t be too hard on yourself, because it isn’t fair. Hashem knows you are not perfect. He didn’t create you perfect. He created you with the ability to try to do your best, and He does not expect more than that.

There is a story of a great Rabbi who said, «Hashem, I sinned today, but tomorrow I shall not sin again. I know I said this yesterday as well, but this time I mean it!»

He used to say that every night. But many nights he stood at a slightly better level than he did the night before. And that’s all that Hashem asks of us.

Repentance is not a complicated process. In your heart, you know how to do it, and you know you can do it.

A man once went to the Rabbi of Kotzk, and said to him, «I sinned. What should I do?»

The Rebbe answered him, «Why, repent, of course!»

«But I’m unlearned,» said the man, «and I don’t know how to repent!»

«If you’re so unlearned,» asked the Kotzker Rebbe, «how did you know you were sinning?»

Said the man, «Actually, I didn’t know at the time. I sinned, and afterwards I found out that I had sinned.»

«So do the same thing here,» the Rebbe told him. «Repent, and afterwards you’ll find out how to repent.»

The long and the short of it is: Repentance is not all that complicated or problematic. Deep in your heart, you know how to repent.

And when you are ready for the fourth step, bear in mind that you should not try to rectify too many sins at once. A complete makeover takes time, and it is best to focus on one or a few things at a time. Trying to do too much at once will almost certainly result in failure, and possibly depression.

But if you focus on one thing at a time, you are more likely to succeed. And yes, Hashem not only accepts this, He delights in it.

And remember, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Resolve to fix one thing at a time, no more. Take it slow.

The man responded to this and emailed me again, as follows:

Are you saying that forgiveness is granted if you realize your sin and confess and apologize to G-d, even though G-d knows that you will inevitably sin again? Even though you claim to not do it again, and mean it with all your heart and soul, but inevitably you do the same thing again, G-d does not get angry at you for lying to him?

To which I responded:

If you repent and you intend to do the best you can not to sin, that’s not a lie — even if you later fall and sin again.

G-d knows our natures and our inclinations, as well as our strengths and frailties. (He created them, after all!)

And the truth is that if you find it hard to stop sinning, G-d also accepts your effort to not sin for a specific period of time.

In other words, you might decide one day that «I will not do this sin today.» You know you might do it tomorrow, but at least today you will not sin. For that day you will have accomplished something great! And who knows, maybe you won’t sin tomorrow either. And maybe you will. So a few days later you’ll try another day without sinning. Those days are precious to Hashem!

And eventually, if you can, you’ll move it up to two days without sinning. And then maybe three, and maybe finally you’ll get used to not sinning. This is a healthy way, and it’s a realistic way.

In fact, what many people do is start with one hour a day, for every day. I know of a group of women in a local Jewish community that meets every so often to discuss their spiritual growth. That entire group of women agreed to set aside one hour a day during which they will not get angry.

Other groups advocate stipulating one hour a day during which they will speak no gossip.

The point is to slowly, eventually, expand that until it becomes second nature, and you no longer, as a rule, do that sin. If you do it this way, it is not at all «inevitable that you will sin.» But even if you do, you simply try once again not to.

One good method to use is to stay away from situations that lead you to sin. For example, if you find it hard to resist stopping into your local fast food restaurant and buying some non-kosher food, take a detour and don’t walk or drive past that restaurant (if possible). If talking to a certain person often causes you to speak profanity or gossip, you are better off not speaking to that person too much.

I have a friend who was once trying to tell me something nasty about someone we both dislike. Since he was a friend, I was able to tell him, «Please — I have recently decided not to speak or hear loshon hara (evil talk, gossip, slander, etc.)!» He understood, and he stopped. You can’t do this with everyone, and some people you will simply have to stay away from. We probably all know at least one person who loves to peddle stories. It’s unfortunate, of course, and it also makes our work harder.

Possibly the most important and best method is to stay away from sin by doing good. If you keep yourself busy doing good things, you won’t have time or energy to sin very much.

There was a Rabbi who used to tell his followers, «I want you to be simply too busy to do any sins!»

No matter what method you use, don’t think it means you will never make a mistake, that you will never fail. Everyone fails, everyone makes mistakes from time to time. The trick is to pick yourself up afterwards and keep on going. That is how King Solomon describes a righteous person: «The righteous fall even seven times, but they get up each time. The wicked, however, are overcome by evil» (Proverbs 24:16).

So we try, we often fail, but we try again. Hashem judges us not on our successes, but on our honest attempts. Not only that, but just the act of getting up and trying again is in itself the accomplishment of something good, and this also refines a person, as well as earns him reward in the World To Come.

You can appear in Heaven, after a long life, full of sins, and be accepted into Heaven! Because you regretted the sins, you honestly tried not to commit those sins again, and you picked yourself up after committing those sins and tried yet again not to do them!

Great and holy people can simply make a decision and then always stick to it (or at least stick to it most of the time). Some of us are not at that level yet. So we do it bit by bit, and one at a time.

Hashem loves and accepts that, because we are trying our best. That’s all that Hashem wants of us!