The ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are called the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Yemei Teshuvah). Although we are judged on Rosh Hashana, one who does teshuvah (repentance) during these ten days can change his judgement and be sealed in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur. (Tractate Rosh Hashana 16b
Establishing the World
Teshuvah is essential for the existence of the world as without teshuvah we would be judged and found guilty. The number 10 symbolizes the establishment of the world as can be seen from the following:
The world was created with 10 utterances. (See Avot 5:1
There were 10 generations from Adam until the flood at which time the world was saved in the merit of Noa’ch.
The world was again deserving of destruction due to the sins of the Tower of Bavel. G-d saved the world in the merit of Avraham, who lived 10 generations after No’ach.
Avraham was tested by G-d 10 times (see Avot 5:3
) which led to his descendants being chosen by G-d.
The Jewish people accepted the Torah and the Ten Commandments which is the reason for the creation of the world.
This is also why the lower level of the tapestries of the Mishkan (which was the spiritual focal point of the world) had 10 panels of tapestries (See Exodus 26:1
Several of the keilim (holy vessels) of the Mishkan measured 10 handbreadths, for example, the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) and the Shulchan (table) (See Exodus 25:10 and 23
The above significance of the number 10 is also why we have in the Musaf prayer of Rosh Hashana 10 verses about G-d’s kingship, 10 about Divine remembrance, and 10 about the Shofar.
This is also why Yom Kippur, which is the day of ultimate teshuvah, is on the 10th day of the Ten Days of Repentance.
The Constellation of Tishrei
The constellation of Tishrei is moznayim (scales or Libra) as this symbolizes that G-d judges all of humanity at this time (ibid).
Humility – A Key to Teshuvah
Rabbeinu Bachaye (Kad HaKemach, entry Teshuvah) explains that in order to do a proper and pure teshuvah one should be aware of one’s own worthlessness and lowliness. This humility will open one’s heart to effect lasting change. Iyov (Job) expressed this in the following verses (Job 1:1 – 2). “Man, born of woman, is short-lived and sated with trouble. He blossoms like a flower and withers; He vanishes like a shadow and does not endure.” These verses list five reasons why a person should be humble:
- “Man” We are descendants of the first man (Adam) who was made of earth.
- “Born of woman” Our formation and early development is in an environment filled with blood and bodily fluids.
- “Short-lived” We live relatively short lives as opposed to the earlier generations when people lived for many centuries.
- “Sated with trouble” Within our short lives we have many difficulties.
- “He blossoms like a flower and withers” Despite all of one’s accomplishments, once one passes away, his body withers and rots fairly quickly.
Here are some teachings about teshuvah from Rabbi Eliezer Papo,
author of the Peleh Yoetz, in his book Ya’alzu Chassidim:
If one’s child were sick, G-d forbid, one would fast and pray continuously for his or her recovery. How much more so we should fast and pray for our own recovery from our sins as these make us spiritually ill! When we do teshuvah, we are healed from this illness and are restored to Eternal Life (page 50).
Seeking Counsel to do Teshuvah
The Talmud (Brachot 34b) says that one who publicizes one’s sin is considered brazen. This is only referring to one who publicizes his sin needlessly. One may, however, approach a Tzadik (righteous man) and ask him for advice as to how to do teshuvah for his sins. If one does not want to admit that he sinned, he can say something like, “How can a person who committed this-and-this sin do teshuvah?”
One should accept upon oneself to follow the directives of the tzadik just as one would follow medical advice from a reputable physician (page 34).
Confession for all Sins
One should say viduy (confession) even on sins he did not commit as all Jews are responsible for each other. This is especially true of sins that one saw others committing and did not protest (page 37).
The Sin of Not Protesting
One who can protest a sin and does not do so is considered to be a partner in that sin. As the Talmud (Shabbat 54b
) says, “Anyone who has the capability to effectively protest against the sinful conduct of members of his household and does not do so, is punished for the sins of the members of his household. The same applies to the sins of one’s community and, indeed, the sins of the entire world.” The Talmud relates how a neighbor of Rabbi Eliezer allowed her cow to walk outside on Shabbat while wearing a leather strap. Rabbi Eliezer did not protest this behavior despite the fact that the majority of the sages ruled it to be forbidden. (One may not allow one’s animals to carry an unnecessary burden on Shabbat.) The reason Rabbi Eliezer did not protest is because, in his opinion, such a strap as not considered a burden. Later, however, he regretted it as he should have protested in accordance with the majority view. He then fasted to atone for this sin although he had not personally transgressed (page 37).
Similarly, the Talmud says (Shabbat 56b
) that the verse which says (Kings I 11:7
) King Solomon built altars for idol worship means that he did not protest when his wives (who had come from idolatrous nations) built these altars. Since he could have prevented the sin and did not do so, the sin is ascribed to him.
The only exception to this is if one knows that his protests will go unheeded. In such a case, if the sin is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah, he need not protest. In fact, it is better that he not do so as protesting would turn the people into deliberate sinners instead of inadvertent ones.
It may happen that a person is righteous and would never commit a sin even on pain of death. Yet when he comes to the next world, he will find many sins in his ledger that he did not commit. He will be astounded by this and will say, “Master of the World, how did I get these sins? I always toiled to be free of sin, certainly from such severe sins.” G-d will answer, “It is true that you did not commit these. But these are the sins of the community which you saw being done and did not protest. They are now considered your own (ibid).”
Don’t Rely on the Leaders
Some people do not rebuke others who sin as they think that the mitzvah of rebuking is for the communal leaders. They say to themselves, “Who made me a ruler over him that I should tell him how to behave?” This is a mistake. The mitzvah to rebuke is incumbent on every Jew. On the contrary, a friend can influence his colleague to refrain from sin even more effectively than a rabbi as only friends know each other’s gravest shortcomings and have deep influence on them. One should say to one’s friend, “We must strengthen ourselves for G-d’s sake. What is our life worth if it leads us to Gehinom? Let us return to G-d, and fulfill His will as we do our own.” Such words will enter the friend’s heart more than a thousand speeches of a rabbi (page 26).
One of the sins that is difficult to repent for is that of men gazing at forbidden women. Some people say to themselves, “What is my sin, did I touch her? I only looked at her.”
In fact the Torah equates this sin with that of forbidden relations as it leads to sinful thoughts which, in a certain sense, are worse than an actual sin (see Brachot 24b
and Avodah Zarah 20b
). In addition, such gazing blemishes the “eyes” of one’s soul and blinds one from being able to gaze at Divine sights. This will lead to further spiritual decline, G-d forbid (page 28).
Sometimes it might happen that one sees a forbidden woman without intending to do so. There is no punishment incurred for this as long as he does not continue to gaze at her. This is true only if he regrets having seen her. If he rejoices in the sight, however, he will be punished for that rejoicing, as the verse says (Mishlei 17:5), “He who rejoices at a misfortune will not go unpunished (page 131).”
Exile to Shul
According to our sages (see Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 2:4)
, one of the ways to achieve atonement for one’s sins is to go into exile. The difficulty involved in leaving one’s place atones for one’s sins and makes one humble. Nowadays, however, this is not recommended as leaving one’s community can disturb one’s service of G-d due to the difficulty of the move. Rather one should “exile oneself” from one’s home in the following ways:
- Spending time in Shul davening and learning
- Running to perform mitzvot and to assist other people
- The above applies especially if it is a day with bad weather.
- In addition, whenever one has to travel for whatever reason, he should pray to G-d that the difficulties of the journey should atone for his sins (page 33).
Suffering that Follows Teshuvah
It sometimes happens that a person begins to experience troubles in one’s life specifically after doing teshuva. The reason for this is that until they did teshuvah G-d was saving all his punishments for the Next World as He does for extremely wicked people. After the teshuvah, however, G-d has mercy on him and cleanses him from his sins in this world so that he will be pure in the Next World, which is what He does for Tzadikim. Therefore, one should not be disheartened but should continue in his path (page 268).
May We Merit to Do Complete Teshuvah and be Inscribed in the Book of Life!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and A G’mar Chatimah Tovah!