Mitzvah/Concept 92 Yom Kippur Part Two
A Day of Teshuva
The word Ach is generally used by the Torah to limit the discussion. The Ach of Yom Kippur means that it brings atonement
to those who repent and does not for those who refuse to do Teshuva.1 This also relates to the phrase, Shabbat Shabbaton, which compares Yom Kippur to the Sabbath. Shabbat shares the same root as Teshuva. They share more than the root; the Sabbath is actually a day of Teshuva.
When Adam first saw Cain after the murder of Abel, he was shocked. Adam knew that he was punished with death for eating from the Tree of Knowledge and he could not imagine that Cain would receive anything other than immediate death as punishment for his terrible sin. He asked his son; “How can you possibly still be alive? Why did God not kill you?” Cain answered, “I did Teshuva.” Adam was shocked, “Is that the power of Teshuva?” He immediately broke out in song to God and sang, “A Psalm for the Sabbath day.2”3 Adam was so moved by Cain, that he did Teshuva, and that day was Yom Kippur!4
Why would Adam sing about the Sabbath upon learning the power of Teshuva? They both serve the same purpose and function in the same way. The point of Judaism is to become independent, powerful and in touch with the unlimited potential of being a human being. The more independent we become the more distant we are from God. We begin to believe that we are our own masters. This is why creation culminated in the Shabbat.5 Creation became more independent with each stage. Each form of creation was higher than the preceding until it culminated in the most independent being; man. There is a terrible tension. The snake accurately described us as, “and you will be as powers6.” The Shabbat is the restoration of the connection between the creation and its Creator. This is why Shabbat shares the same root as Teshuva, to return. Our relationship with God is restored. We run around all work earning a living and being in control. On Shabbat we cease all creative work, the greatest expression of our independence, and remember that God is the only source of Power.7
When we sin we have not only damaged our souls, we have created distance between God and us. We went against God’s will. We are similar to a child who has ignored his parents’ wishes for a long time and is now distant. God always called to us from the distance through His prophets; “Seek God when He can be found; call upon him when He is near.8 Let the wicked one forsake his way, and the iniquitous man his thoughts; let him return to God and He will show him mercy; to our Lord, for He is abundantly forgiving.”9 “And now come near to here.”10 “Peace, peace, for the far and near, said God.”11 God calls to us from across the distance to return to Him. He actually assists in the Teshuva process; “One who comes to purify is helped by heaven.”12 “Open up your hearts the space of the eye of a needle and I will expand it to help you return to Me.”13 We may experience distance from God, yet God is calling to us to return to Him and is also offering His help. He is not distant from us. The distance is only in our minds, it is imaginary. He loves us and cares for us and helps us no matter how distant we imagine ourselves to be.
Teshuva and the Sabbath remind us that the distance is imaginary; God is always present and accessible.14 God is most available on Yom Kippur. It was on Yom Kippur15 that God taught Moses the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy16 that allow us to maintain a relationship with Him no matter how distant we perceive ourselves to be, and allow God to maintain His presence among us despite our sins.17
1 Rashi Leviticus 23:27. See footnote 5 above for the debate regarding whether it is necessary to do Teshuva in order for Yom Kippur to effect atonement.
2 Psalm 92
3 Bereishit Rabbah 22:13
4 Abravanel Leviticus 23:27
5 My rebbi, Rabbi Yochanan Zweig. This is my recollection of an oral discourse.
6 Genesis 3:5 The snake did not lie. He is criticized by the Sages for speaking evil but not for lying.
7 Mitzvah/Concept 86
8 According to the Sages God can be found, and He is near, during the Ten Days of Teshuva.
9 Isaiah 55:6-7
10 Ibid 57:3
11 ibid verse 19
12 TB Yoma 38b
13 Kotzker Rebbe
14 This is based on the Mabit, Beit Elokim; The Gate of Teshuva, Chapter 1
15 Abravanel Leviticus 23:2716 Appendix 1
17 Leviticus 16:16 “Who dwells among them even in their impurity.”