Yom Kippur: Can You Feel It?

Written by Laura Goldman on . Posted in Torah

We spend almost a month and a half preparing for Yom Kippur, yet if recognizing our precarious situation in this world is a prerequisite to feeling on this day, Yom Kippur can be overwhelming and discouraging.How does one avoid that?

Rav Kook, in his book “Oros HaTeshuva,” recognizes and delineates the emotional path that individuals tread in doing teshuva (repentance).He describes a point in teshuva where one realizes with clarity how he has fallen short, and a choice in reactions he can have.In the eighth chapter Rav Kook writes, “When that inner sorrow is revealed in all of its might ... [he can still reach the peak of teshuva] because teshuva that arrives through suffering is also teshuva.”

Rav Moshe Weinberger explains in his commentary, “Song of Teshuva,” that when one introspects and sees his flaws, it can motivate him to do teshuva.But it can also overwhelm and discourage him, leading to a lack of motivation to change or to despair, which can cause deterioration and depression. 

Sorrow and suffering as a catalyst to teshuva may be valid, but it comes at a price.To feel remorse, one must have the ability to see one’s shortcomings.Rav Weinberger noted that people are often locked up within themselves, preventing them from seeing their behavior from a broad and clear perspective: To see oneself as villainous where one has rationalized his behavior as virtuous can be crushing.

But, on Yom Kippur, Hashem wants more for us.Rav Weinberger notes that when someone has opened themselves and is broken and distraught by what they find, Hashem has compassion and helps him find his way back.

Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik (aka the Rav) in his lectures on teshuva cites the final Mishna in Tractate Yoma in which Rabbi Akiva compares Hashem to a mikvah that purifies the people of Israel to indicate Hashem’s active involvement in our teshuva.

The Rav notes that on Yom Kippur, G-d comes closest to man, just as on the first Yom Kippur when He descended in a cloud to Mount Sinai and stood with Moshe there.On fast days, the times during the year that call us to teshuva, we read the haftorah that reminds us to “search for Hashem where He is to be found, call on Him when He is near.”

On Yom Kippur, the haftorah relates Hashem’s message to “cast up, cast up, prepare the way!Lift the stumbling block from the path of my people!”The difference between the two, says the Rav, is that in the first, the obligation is completely on the individual to find Hashem, whereas in the second, Hashem is coming to find us.He wants to make the otherwise difficult and obstacle-filled path toward teshuva easy, to help us clear the debris from the road blocking us from achieving closeness and connection to ourselves, others, and Him. 

Yom Kippur affords us the opportunity to change ourselves, acquit ourselves of punishment, and cleanse ourselves from any residual spiritual contamination that attends with sin. What might have caused us to despair and give up hope now gives us renewed optimism about a possibility-filled future, and a personal resolve to achieve it.Our job on Yom Kippur is to turn to Hashem with clarity about ourselves and a desire to connect to Him, and to authentically open our heart to Him — He will take it the rest of the way.

Wishing us all a gmar chatima tova, that we be sealed in the Book of Life.

 By Laura Goldman