Yom Kippur is the most awesome day of the year. This is the final day of the Ten Days of Repentance which began on Rosh Hashana. This is the day on which we can merit atonement for our sins, and our final verdict is issued with our fate sealed for the entire year. It is a day we greet with trepidation and excitement. Our lives are hanging in balance, and we implore God to forgive us for our sins and grant us a good year.
One can easily feel overwhelmed and discouraged. With what are we to approach God and beseech His mercy? Who can feel he has properly repented to deserve complete atonement with which he can earn a favorable judgement? We all have shortcomings and we know we will not be perfect in the future. What hope do we have to merit forgiveness from God on this day?
Rabbi Yechezkel Levinstein gives us hope. He says (Ohr Yechezkel, Eluel p. 14), when one has wronged his friend and hurt him, if the one who suffered sees that the offender has sincere remorse and is attempting to amend his ways, his claims against him will subside. So too, even if we haven’t yet reached perfection, when God sees that we have sincere regret and we are working in earnest on improving as much as we can, we too can find favor in the Eyes of God.
The question remains, how can we prove to God that we are sincere in changing and improving our ways? How can we be truthful to ourselves in maintain our resolve to change? Who is to say that we will not return to the way we used to be after Yom Kippur is over and the inspiration wears off?
A few years after the Chofetz Chaim’s marriage he opened up a store together with his wife. His wife would run the store while he studied Torah. At the end of the day, the Chofetz Chaim would pitch in by reviewing the day’s transactions, checking the accounts, and keeping track of inventory and expenses.
At one point he was struck with the thought, “If this is how busy I am with attending to my needs for my temporary life here, how much more so must I be involved in attending to my preparation for eternal life in the Next World. If this little store requires so much attention, time and effort to ensure the business is profitable and I’m not incurring losses, how much more so is it necessary to set aside time and work hard to measure and ensure spiritual progress to be successful in the really great ‘business’ of serving God.”
Ever since, the Chofetz Chaim would indeed take time every night, after he was done with the books of the store, to examine his spiritual progress, take stock and write notes of how his “real business” was doing.
This is really the first step of Teshuvah (repentance). The first step to make our Teshuvah sincere is by examining our ways, as the verse says (Lamentations 3:40), “We shall search out our ways and investigate them and we will repent.” If we want to show God that we mean business, we have to treat our efforts to improve with seriousness. If we don’t stop to contemplate our deeds and measure our progress in spiritual achievement, how can we claim to be serious about changing our ways? Without devoting attention on a regular basis to examine our ways, how can we be sure we are mending our faults and improving ourselves?
In order to truly start doing Teshuvah we have to make it our business to take stock from time to time of our spiritual status, just like a merchant who wants to succeed in business puts time and effort into observing his accounts and methods to ensure his business is thriving. While we may be far from perfect, at least we can go into Yom Kippur with a resolve to take our Teshuvah seriously by committing ourselves to set a side specific time slots to examine our deeds periodically. If God sees we mean business in working on improving our ways, this will certainly be a great merit for us to stand with in front of God on this most holy day.