Yom Kippur is a day of perspective and inspiration that calls to us to repent and confess before Hashem, our G-d. The Gemara in Nedarim (Daf lamed tet, amud bet) teaches that Hashem created Teshuva before He created the universe. This statement means the world would not be able to exist without a possibility of repentance; G-d would not create a world if downfall was inevitable! If this is true, and Teshuva is regarded so highly, when should we be repenting?
In Pirkei Avot (Perek bet Mishna yud), R’ Eliezer says, “repent the day before you die.” However, how is one supposed to know which day he will die? A story in Midrash Kohelet tells of a sailors wife who used to put on her finest garments every day. Her neighbors asked her, “your husband is overseas- for whom do you attire yourself so nicely?” She replied, “if by chance my husbands boat finds a stray wind, he may return sooner than expected. Better that he find me attractive than unkempt.”
Just like this woman, we should be ready every single day as if the next day is the one we will be encountering G-d. We should be repenting daily for our sins, because we don’t know when our last day will come.
Rav Saadya Gaon was asked by his students why he was constantly repenting. He replied, “I was once at an inn and the innkeeper treated me like any other guest. The next day as I was leaving, he ran over to me crying and apologizing. He said ‘if only I had known who you were! I would have treated you with the utmost respect.'”
These are feelings a Jew should have. If we had known what happened today, we may have acted differently yesterday. That’s the exact message we get from the day of Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, our goal is to earn G-d’s mercy, and we beg him not to punish us for past sins. This requires sincere repentance- one that we cannot get to on a daily basis. This comes through fasting, verbal confession, and purity. Yom Kippur is a day that Hashem grants atonement far beyond our deserving. Even a minimum sincere effort is given great reward, for it is Hashem’s will that through repentance and reflection on the past year, we will gain entry into Olam Habah and move forward to another healthy, happy year. Shana tova, and a Chasima Tova to all.
Girl Studying in Midreshet Moriah for the year