“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”
And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. — Leviticus 16:34
A note to our readers: This week marks the continuation of the ten days between the start of Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. It is a time of serious introspection in preparation for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which will be observed on Sept. 30. It is considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Our devotions throughout this week are tied to this biblically mandated observance.
On Yom Kippur, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar, we turn to God and say, “I’m sorry, I messed up and I resolve never to do it again.” But who are we kidding? In all likelihood, we probably will do it again sometime in the 364 days to come. By the time Yom Kippur comes around next year, we will have a whole new list of things to be sorry for all over again. We will say, “I’m sorry, I messed up and I resolve never to do it again.” And the cycle will begin anew!
Even God isn’t falling for our bluff. Why else would he prescribe Yom Kippur, a day of atonement, every single year? If He really thought that we would stick to all of our resolutions, then why would He mandate that Yom Kippur be observed by everyone, every year? God knows that we are all going to stumble again.
King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, says in the book of Proverbs, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (24:16). He does not say “IF the righteous fall . . . .” He says, “though the righteous fall . . . .” The righteous will fall. Many times. They will stumble. However, that’s not what counts. What matters most is that “they rise again.”
God knows that we will stumble – year after year after year. Yet on Yom Kippur, we will rise again – and that is what matters.
There is a story told about a great rabbi who would address God every night and say: “God, I sinned today, but tomorrow I shall not sin again. I know I said this yesterday, but this time I really mean it.” He would say this every single evening. However, every night that he rose from where he fell, he would stand a little higher, and reach a little closer toward God.
This is the purpose of the yearly Yom Kippur service. The Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah. Literally, the word means “to return” because when we repent, we return to God and to our godly nature. But there is another meaning for the word as well. Teshuvah also means “to repeat,” because repentance is something that we do over and over again. Yet, every time that we return to our Source, we get closer to Him and He is that much more a part of our lives.
The message of Yom Kippur is an empowering one. It teaches us that it’s ok to fall, so long as we get back up again. We don’t need to be perfect, just perfectly dedicated to trying again.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President