Now that we find ourselves on the other side of Rosh Hashanah, we are faced with the daunting spectacle of the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance) and Yom Kippur. This week was set aside by Hashem as the time for us to repent for our sins of the past year. While Yom Kippur is obviously the most important day of them all, it being the date set aside by the Torah for repentance, this entire period must be taken seriously, with each day an added preparation for Yom Kippur. Because of this, Chazal recommended accepting certain stringencies on ourselves for just this week. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in his sefer Michtav MeEliyahu says that this might seem silly since we know that starting the next week we won’t care about any of these laws. He explains that this week we are supposed to try to familiarize ourselves with doing mitzvos and being Ovdei Hashem (Servants of Hashem) as much as possible, if that means accepting a stricter halachah for only one week, so be it. Even if we don’t keep the halachah afterwards, it is worth it in order to put us in a “do-gooder” mood.
Let us try to understand Yom Kippur itself. The pasuk says in Parshas Emor,” אַךְ בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הַזֶּה יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים הוּא מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם” But on the tenth of this seventh month, it is a day of atonement, it shall be a holy day for you and you shall afflict yourselves…” (Vayikra 23:27). On Yom Kippur, we are obligated to keep a few extra restrictions which are known collectively as “עינוי”. עינוי (Inui), affliction, includes no eating or drinking, no washing hands below the knuckles, no wearing leather shoes, and a few other restrictions. The only one other day during the year on which there is a concept of Inui is Tisha B’av, the day on which we mourn the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. First off, it is very important to understand that there is a very fundamental difference between these two days. Tisha B’av is the saddest day of the year, the day we mourn the loss of the greatest connection we had to God in this world. As such, we treat ourselves like mourners who are obligated to pain themselves, Inui.
Yom Kippur, however, is completely different. This day is one of the greatest gifts Hashem has given us, a chance to wipe away all of our sins and start over completely from the beginning. It is when we show Hashem that we are ready and willing to become better people. In order to do that, we try to separate ourselves from the material world as much as we can, till we reach the level of angels. We hope that by acting like angels, Hashem will treat us like holy beings and forgive us and believe that we will change. The way we separate ourselves is by undertaking the ways of Inui, not to pain ourselves, but to show that we have no need of worldly pleasures. Just like a malach (angel) has no need of food, drink, or comfortable shoes, so too we do not need these things. All we need is to bask in Hashem’s presence.
The majority of the davening on Yom Kippur is dedicated to Vidui, confession, a part of the mitzvah of teshuvah. It is a discussion amongst the various commentaries if Vidui and Teshuvah are two separate commandments or one and the same, but regardless, everyone agrees that without Vidui, which is specifically a verbal confession, your teshuvah is not complete. The question becomes that how come an internal repentance is not enough? What are you adding to the teshuvah when you confess out loud? R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch says that if you say verbally what and how you have sinned, the sin becomes an external force which you can always look at to make sure you won’t commit that sin again. Once you say something out loud, that confession is now permanent, it cannot be erased. Even if you admit you were wrong, but you don’t verbalize your guilt, you can always back out of it. Once you commit verbally, it is a full exposure of your sin. Someone who can make this type of commitment, is worthy of extreme praise. To show how important Vidui is, Chazal placed it in every tefillah, including the minchah on Erev Yom Kippur. If we can have the proper Kavanah (concentration) required during Vidui, surely Hashem will have mercy on us.
While we are preparing for Yom Kippur and everything that comes with it, there is a very important gemarah to consider. “דרש ר' אלעזר בן עזריה (ויקרא טז, ל) ‘מכל חטאתיכם לפני ה' תטהרו’, עבירות שבין אדם למקום יוה"כ מכפר עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו אין יוה"כ מכפר עד שירצה את וחביר” “Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah learned out from the pasuk ‘…from all of your sins, before Hashem, you will become pure.’ Sins that are between man and God will be absolved by Yom Kippur. Sins that are between man and his friend are not absolved by Yom Kippur. They will only be forgiven when the man pleases his friend” (Yoma 85b).The meaning of this gemarah is very clear, if we have wronged a friend over the course of the year, davening to Hashem for forgiveness will not work in this case. We must seek out that person and ask forgiveness from them. In some ways, this is harder than asking Hashem for forgiveness. And even though Yom Kippur is not mechaper (does not atone) for any sin against another person, these sins are still included in your judgment! So it is extremely important to ask for forgiveness since they are your only way of doing a complete Teshuvah.
Yom Kippur is our day, the day when we are put in the spotlight for the events of the past year and are judged for good or bad. We must take advantage of this time and do everything we can to make the din (judgment) go in our favor. The one day the Satan has no power on is Yom Kippur, this means that there are no outside forces opposing us and trying to put us in a bad light. The only things present at the judgment when our fate is decided are ourselves and our actions. At this final stage, it is completely up to us. Let us all commit to live by the Torah and all of Hashem’s mitzvos and with that we should all merit a happy, healthy year.
Gmar Chasima Tova!