Every Shabbos we look forward to the delightful seudos where we enjoy delicious food and drinks, sing zemiros, say divrei Torah, and spend wonderful time with our families. This coming Shabbos, Yom Kippur, will be quite different. We will spend most of the day in prayer and repentance, begging Hashem to forgive us for our sins, and we may forget that it is also Shabbos. However, from the fact that we ask for forgiveness “on this day of Shabbos,” we see that there is an integral connection between Shabbos and the atonement of Yom Kippur.
One of the most important aspects of Yom Kippur is teshuvah, repentance. In fact, without it, we will not receive the atonement we so badly need. Yes, we all want to do teshuvah, and in truth, the Torah tells us (Nitzavim 30:14) “Ki karov eilecha ha’davar me’od — for it (teshuvah) is extremely close to you!” So why is it so difficult to do? The answer is that many of us simply never learned the basics of teshuvah. Let us then, in a practical manner, summarize how one does teshuvah.
The literal translation of the word teshuvah is “return” — but to where? Hashem has granted every one of us a holy neshama, carved out of His Throne of Glory. Our job in this world is to use that neshama to sanctify our bodies and souls through learning Torah, doing mitzvos, and perfecting our character. Unfortunately, though, throughout our lives we drift away from Hashem and from where our neshamos used to be. Doing teshuvah returns us to that exalted and holy status.
The first step is to become aware of what we are doing wrong. Before Yom Kippur one should look over the list in viduy and note which ones are applicable to our own lives. At the same time, we should think over our day, seeing where we can improve. For example — am I coming on time to Shacharis (or for a woman, am I taking the time to daven)? How much do I “space out” during Shemoneh Esreh? Do I remember to say brochos before and after I eat?
Next is azivah, abandoning the sin. Try to think of ways to fix these problems, and understand why they are happening. Perhaps it is because we are not aware of their severity, or because we do not set up enough safeguards to prevent the Satan from overtaking us. Just to take an extreme example; one who has difficulty holding back from eating cheeseburgers should make sure not to walk past McDonald’s!
The next step is charatah, regretting our actions. If one does not truly have remorse for his ways, then his repentance is just an outward act. Therefore, the more remorse one has, the more highly his repentance is regarded (Rabbeinu Yonah, Shaarei Teshuvah 1: 13). There are many levels of remorse. On one level is the one who regrets his actions because he realizes that Hashem has given him so much good and he has paid it back with bad. On another level is one who finds himself being punished or sees others receiving punishment and realizes that it can happen to him. This man wishes he had never sinned. Hashem, out of His great love and mercy accepts even that type of repentance.
Part of this process is accepting on ourselves never to sin again — an extremely difficult step indeed. R’ Yisroel Salanter zt”l, the famed father of the mussar movement, suggests making a kabbalah – choosing one small thing that we can truly commit to keeping for the next year. Then we will have done a complete teshuvah in at least one area and will merit the atonement of Yom Kippur. As far as all the other sins go, the fact that we are trying to prevent them from happening again is accepted by Hashem. Furthermore, at the end of each Shemoneh Esrei we ask Hashem: “Ye’hee rotzon … shelo echeteh od – may it be Your will that I never sin again.” Rav Eliyashiv zt”l would say that this plea, if said truthfully and from our hearts, is tantamount to accepting on ourselves never to sin again, because it shows that this is truly our desire. (It may take until Ne’eelah to say these words with tremendous feeling.)
And finally, viduy, verbally expressing all of the above, making these abstract ideas concrete. Even though Chazal formulated a fixed list to say, it is recommended that you focus on the list you compiled before Yom Kippur, saying it verbally at least one time (even in English), after the standard version of viduy. And of course one should verbally express the kabalah at the same time. (Make sure to say “bli neder,” so that you will not be creating a vow!)
Okay, I know what you are thinking — easier said than done! We all know how much we love ourselves and have much difficulty we have seeing anything bad in our actions. So how do we even start?
This is where Shabbos comes in. The Tzlach tells us, that on Shabbos it is easier to gain true repentance. Rav Reuven Cohen (Rosh Kollel Zichron Yosef, Kiryat Sefer) explains this with a mishna in Demai (4:1), which states that normally an “am ha’aretz” is not believed when he says that maaser has been taken on his fruits. However, on Shabbos he is believed because the fear of Shabbos is upon him. The reason is that on Shabbos we are granted an extra neshama — a neshama yeseirah, which causes us to become much closer to Hashem. This instills a subconscious fear of Hashem, even in the ignoramus, which causes him to speak the truth.
Now we understand why it is much easier to do teshuvah on Shabbos, because the first step in teshuvah is to really be honest with ourselves. On this day, when we feel Hashem’s presence in a stronger way, it is much harder to tell ourselves with a straight face that we are “just fine.” Our neshama yeseirah helps us to realize what needs to be fixed and requires atonement.
But it goes even further. As mentioned above, true remorse is the key to full repentance. During the week, when we are involved in material matters it is hard for us to really feel bad about what we have done wrong. On Shabbos, however, we are involved in spiritual pursuits and thus see, in a clearer way, the purpose of the world and what we are supposed to be accomplishing. The realization of how far we are from fulfilling our task strikes a chord in our hearts and we truly regret our actions.
If we really want to get the full benefit of this special power of Shabbos, we must remember on Yom Kippur that it is also Shabbos. Each time we mention Shabbos during davening, if we think that because it is Shabbos, we are now so close to Hashem, we will come even closer. This in itself is what we are trying to accomplish with teshuvah — to come back to Hashem where we truly belong. May we merit, through Shabbos and the extreme holiness of Yom Kippur, to truly repent and receive a complete atonement!