Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
Believing in the Power of Yom Kippur and the Power of Teshuva
The awesome day of Yom Kippur is upon us, and we approach it with dread since it is a day when our fate is decreed for the coming year. As we say in U’Nesane Tokef, “…on the fast day of Yom Kippur, it is sealed who will live and who will die.” This dread and fear should drive us to utilize the days leading up to Yom Kippur to review our previous successes and failures and figure out what we can change so that the future has more successes and less failures. No matter how well we do in this endeavor, there is something else we must do to utilize the wonderful gift of Yom Kippur to its fullest extent. We must believe in the gift of teshuva (repentance) and the gift of Yom Kippur!
We must believe that no matter how far we have strayed and no matter how severe our misdeeds are, we can achieve repentance and be redeemed by Hashem’s dual gift of teshuva and Yom Kippur. In the liturgy of Tzom Gedaliah we refer to the case of Menashe, king of Yehuda. Menashe committed the most heinous of crimes, murdering countless people, uprooting the spiritual edifices and Torah learning that his father and predecessor, Yechizkiyahu, had created. He went as far as murdering his grandfather, the prophet Yeshayahu! After such a terrible career, he was captured and tortured by his Assyrian enemies. Menashe first called out to all of his false deities, and only when there was no response, did he turn his entreaties for help to Hashem. The Midrash in Megillas Rus (5:15) tells us that the ministering angels argued that he was not worthy of grace. After all the crimes he had committed and the insulting behavior of turning to Hashem only as a last resort, why should he be saved? Hashem did not follow their counsel. He created a special pathway of teshuva for this grotesque sinner so that no one would ever have the excuse not to repent by saying that he/she were beyond redemption.
Our sages (Pesikta 21) note that teshuva is not logical. Once we have been disrespectful to our Creator, we have lost the right to exist. Yet, as we say when we recite the שלש עשרה מדות, the thirteen attributes of mercy, Hashem tolerates our missteps and affords us the opportunity to do teshuva. Teshuva is a special kindness that is a product of Hashem’s mercy; it can accomplish far more than we can understand. We use our human interactions as a frame of reference to limit the power of teshuva. Hashem doesn’t see it that way.
The same idea is present when we think about Yom Kippur. We prepare for this holy day through תשובה – תפלה – צדקה and that is our feeble way of showing that we are serious about the process. Hashem, in his magnanimity, takes it to a completely different level. Yom Kippur is the ultimate cleansing which Hashem graces us, completely disproportionately to our efforts. This is the meaning of כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם – It is with this day He will atone for you. Our job is לפני ד’ תטהרו, to cleanse ourselves before Him so that we are worthy of this tremendous gift of forgiveness.
While we are in fear of the judgement, we trust in Hashem’s kindness and believe that this day will bring us redemption from the mistakes we make. The more we believe in the power of the day, the more it will change us. If we leave Yom Kippur with the feeling that we have a new lease on life, the longer we will be able to act as a reborn people.
May we merit to experience the full beauty and majesty of this day and emerge pure and reconciled with our Maker so that we move forward serving Him with love and joy!