How to Get the Most Out of Yom Kippur
The three Rs of repentance.
The High Holy Day period are gifted to us to take stock of our lives. We are granted time so that when our verdict is sealed on Yom Kippur, our prayers can be accepted. We remember our essence and rediscover what lies within.
This opportunity of teshuva, repentance, is a miracle. Think about it. The other day my dry cleaners returned a white blouse with a note attached. “We are sorry but as hard as we tried, we could not remove these stains. They are permanent.” Yet in the world of teshuva we rise above nature where no stain is permanent. No matter how far we’ve fallen, we can always come back and undo the damage.
How can we make the most of these days?
The Three Rs of Repentance
The first step to change is feeling the need to make a transformation. This comes about through remorse. Feeling badly for the lapses, the pain we have caused others, and the times we could’ve done better. Truly looking at ourselves in a spiritual mirror and saying, "Enough! I don’t want to do this anymore."
What prevents us from feeling true regret?
We rationalize. We excuse our behavior by finding valid reasons for our actions.
“I know I shouldn’t have said that but my husband/wife/mother in law/boss/kids….”
“I really shouldn’t be doing this but everyone does it.”
You are the captain of your ship. Your actions and reactions are up to you. You define your destiny.
We blame others for our shortcomings. We cast the responsibility on everyone but ourselves. It's easier to think that others are at fault than confronting reality.
It's also easy to get stuck in the past and fall into dysfunctional patterns.
In order to move forward we need to realize: You are the captain of your ship. Your actions and reactions are up to you. You define your destiny.
We are all created with a Divine spark of holiness and capable of greatness. It doesn't matter who you are, your level of Jewish education, who you were born to. All that counts is that you get in touch once again with your inner light.
It is not about giving huge donations or saving a village. You can make a spouse feel loved through expressing gratitude. You can make a difference in a child’s life with patience instead of blowing up. You can prevent harm by holding back from sending an embarrassing text or WhatsApp. You can touch another person with an encouraging word.
Regret the times you’ve caused hurt. Determine to become the person you were meant to be instead of stagnating. Reconnect to your infinite light.
These 10 days of teshuva provide us with prayers that can propel us toward our goal. Said with a full heart, these prayers open up the gates of forgiveness, repentance and atonement. We recite the prayer of Avinu Malkeinu – Our Father, Our King, each day. We ask God for the gift of life. Not because we want to spend our days in trivial pursuits but we know that we can live a life filled with purpose. We recognize that we’ve messed up and ask for compassion.
On Yom Kippur, we recite the Vidduy Confession, going through in alphabetical order the various mistakes we’ve made throughout the year.
To be most effective it’s a good idea to take time and contemplate the words before we say them. Think about your relationship with God as well as your relationship with the people in your lives. The confession steers us towards pondering our thoughts, deeds and words. (Click here for a contemporary translation of the Viduy.)
We are asked to use our gift of speech to confront ourselves. Words create a reality. Beyond thoughts, we are uttering the truth and facing the stark actuality of what we have done.
Real repentance is only complete with resolution for the future. It is not enough to regret our wrongs and then recite prayers and confession for our failings. What we must do now is think about how to actually become new beings by not repeating the mistakes of the past. If we are judgmental, how can we learn to give people the benefit of the doubt? Realizing that we have neglected our Judaism and cast aside mitzvot, how can we reconnect? Which character trait do we wish to work on? How can we set up a steady time, even if it’s for a few minutes a day, to study Torah?
It is not the big things that God is seeking from us. Every single little action makes an impact. Think of a doable plan and commit to implementing it.
Taking the step towards thinking about a strategy for transformation shows that we are serious. We want to make a change. Thinking about the future is the glue that keeps our teshuva together.
Let us be brave during this time period. If we can decide how we will conquer one character trait, grow in one mitzvah, reach out to one person with whom we do not have peace, then we have experienced the triumph of these days.