Taken in part from an article by Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik in Mesorah Journal #6

There is an interesting law brought down by the gemara in Yoma 67a. The Torah (Vayikra 16:21) tells us that the "He-goat to Azazel" was brought into the desert by a person specifically appointed for this job. The Mishna explains that there would be booths set up along the way which functioned as resting points for this man for his journey on an empty stomach into the heat of the Judean Desert. We are then told that at each booth the man was informed that there was food and water available for him if he needed it. While the gemara informs us that no man ever took advantage of these provisions, the obvious implication of the gemara is that he would be allowed to eat if he felt it necessary! This is even codified by Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Yom HaKippurim 3:7) who states that if his strength was waning and he felt that he needed to eat, he was allowed to do so despite the severe punishment (kareit, or spiritual excision) that one receives for eating on this holiest of days.

The obvious question is how this man was allowed to eat? On the one hand, a cursory glance at the laws of Yom HaKippurim shows that there are virtually no exceptions to the prohibition on eating. On the other hand, the gemara in Pesachim 66a that learns from various verses that the labor in the Temple overrode the general prohibition on labor on this day applies only to labor and not to eating. As such, where is the opening to allow such a leniency?

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik claimed that this case forces us to say that the prohibition against eating and drinking on Yom HaKippurim is derived form the same holiness of the day as the prohibition against labor. Thus, once the labor in the Temple has succeeded in pushing aside the holiness of the day, there is now an opening to allow eating as well. This obviously does not mean that anyone can eat (and certainly not the High Priest who is performing most of the service), but in exceptional circumstances, such as the potentially life-threatening conditions for the "appointed man," we now have room to make an exception.

We can see this idea further in Rambam (Hilchot Shevitat Asor 1:5) I his discussion of the prohibitions of washing and anointing oneself on Yom HaKippurim. He says there that it is incumbent upon everyone to refrain from these activities in the same way that one refrains from eating and drinking, since the verse uses the double language of "Shabbat Shabbaton" in reference to Yom HaKippurim one Shabbat for eating and drinking and one Shabbat for everything else. This is an intriguing move, since the language of "Shabbat" usually refers specifically to resting from forbidden labor, and thus we must ask how Rambam applies it to these other activities? However, this may fit into our point stated above, that since the afflictions on this day flow from the same holiness as does the prohibition of labor, thus they can all be seen as being derived from the same verse.

The Beit HaLevi, in a responsa (1:18), further bolsters this point. We have a law that a person who is known to commit a particular sin receives the status of "mumar" for that sin, loosely meaning that he is no longer trustworthy in issues relating that that action. For example, a person known to eat non-kosher meat would not be trusted if he said that the meat that he was serving was kosher. There are, however, two sins which render a person a "mumar" in all cases, and not just the sin that they are known to do. These two cases are one who is known to violate Shabbat and one who is known to worship idolatry. Since their sins strike at the very heart and essence of Judaism, we do not deem them trustworthy for anything that has to do with our religion.

Working off of Rambam in Hilchot Geirushin, the Beit HaLevi notes that not only one who violates Shabbat, but even one who violates Yom HaKippurim becomes a "mumar" for all cases and situations. Rav Moshe Soloveitchik (father of Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik) extends this along the principle laid out by Rav Chaim Soloveitchik to say that not only one who violates Yom HaKippurim by working, but even one who violates it by eating achieves this status of distrust within Judaism.

I would like to suggest that this idea can be seen as well in the counting of the mitzvot laid out in the Sefer HaChinuch (following Rambam). Mitzva 313 discusses the positive commandment to afflict oneself on Yom HaKippurim, a commandment that is interpreted to include eating, drinking, washing, anointing oneself, wearing leather shoes, and having marital relations. Nevertheless, the Sefer HaChinuch feels it necessary to include as mitzva 316 the prohibition of eating and drinking on this day! If this has already been included in an earlier commandment, why is it needed a second time?

If we look a bit closer at the verses in Vayikra 23, we can perhaps see the roots of the idea discussed above. Verse 27 begins by giving the date of Yom HaKippurim and referring to it as a "mikra kodesh" (a holy convocation). The verse then continues to state the command to afflict oneself on that day. Verse 28 then commands that one may not do any work on that day "because it is a day of atonement to atone for you before the Lord your God." The next two verses then restate the commands to afflict oneself and to abstain from work, although this time the punishment of kareit is given.

I would like to suggest that the Torah is presenting us with two aspects of these commandments, a feature that Rambam and the Sefer HaChinuch were sensitive to. While there is a highly severe prohibition against labor and eating on Yom HaKippurim, one for which a person is cut off form the Jewish people, that is only one side of the story. At the same time, there exists the same prohibitions not for their own sake, but as manifestations of a higher principle, namely the "mikra kodesh" aspect of the day. The focus in mitzva 313 (and 315, which speaks about labor) is that one preserve the sanctity of the day, something that is done by not eating and not working. However, when these tactics would backfire, such as by causing physical harm to the person charged with carrying out one of the most important tasks of the day, then perhaps there is room to be lenient.

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