The purpose of teshuva (repentance) is to free us from the various idols of desire that bind us throughout the year * Surrender to the various idols diminishes man, whereas belief in God strengthens one’s character and abilities * The blowing of the shofar at the conclusion of Yom Kippur calls to mind the blowing of the shofar in the Jubilee year, symbolizing the freeing of man from his servitude
It is customary in the world that a person is drawn after his evil instincts, after lust and pride, anger and jealousy, laziness and honor, because they offer him quick gratifications. But after one is drawn to these evil instincts, he becomes enslaved to them. Although inwardly, he still longs for truth and good, nevertheless, it is difficult for him to put his good will into practice, because he has already become addicted to the satisfaction of his passions, and his soul is bound and tormented by its bonds.
By way of teshuva (repentance), a person is released to herut (freedom), and reveals his true desire. His neshama (soul) is freed from the shackles of the yetzer (inclination), begins to illuminate his path, and the life forces within him are intensified. This is what our Sages said (Avot 6: 2): “Man is never freer than when he occupies himself with the study of Torah.” This is because the Torah guides man on the path of truth and goodness, by means of which he can fulfill all his good aspirations – the Divine ideals to which his neshama longs.
The Foundation of Teshuva – Accepting the Kingdom of Hashem
Accepting Malchut Hashem (the Kingdom of God) is the foundation of teshuva and tikkun (rectification), and therefore, is the central matter of Aseret Yemey Teshuva (The Ten Days of Repentance), because sins are attributable to people accepting upon themselves idols that rule over them, and prevent them from listening to their neshama and expressing their good aspirations. By accepting Malchut Hashem, which is the system of laws and values of proper life Hashem has given to Israel in his Torah, man is able to reveal all the capacities within his soul, which correspond to the Divine values, for indeed, he was created be’tzelem Elokim (in the image of God). Thus, in accepting Malchut Hashem, man is unbound from the bondage to idols and passions, and merits teshuva.
Do Not Have Any Gods before Me
The acceptance of Malchut Hashem is contingent on the mitzvah to deny idols, for idolaters personified their faith in God to worship the forces of nature and turn them into idols, and it is a mitzvah not to believe in them.
The idols governing man are not only expressed by external the forces of nature, but also by internal idols, which rule over the soul of man, and prevent him from adhering to Torah and mitzvot. Hashem created one corresponding to the other – just as there is a system of Divine ideals to which man’s yetzer tov (good inclination) yearns for, similarly, man has a system of desires and lusts, that if he does not restrain and subject to the Divine values, his yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) will conquer him, and enslave him to them.
The crowning of Hashem during the Ten Days of Repentance is emancipation from bondage to the foreign idols that rule over man. For example, there is an idol of the lust to eat, and those enslaved to it, invest their energies in over-eating, and drinking alcohol. And there is an idol for the lust of drugs, and an idol for the lust of forbidden sexual relations. Some people worship their idols in utter addiction to the point of total ruin, such as those addicted to alcohol, drugs, or uncontrolled eating, until they die on their idols’ alter. Others are enslaved to several lusts all at once, in which case their idolatry is more restrained, but nevertheless, out of enslavement to their physical desires, they neglect their studies and work, and sink into a life of decay and become old before their time.
And then there is a ruthless idol of anger, and when it conquers someone, it pushes all the other idols aside, causes one to lose his mind, and makes him behave terrifyingly, and at times, even to murder.
The Idol of Money
Some accept upon themselves the kingdom of the god of money, and in order to please him, they strive to accumulate additional wealth and material goods, never resting for a moment, because they always want more wealth – a more expensive apartment, a car, and more luxurious clothing. For the sake of worshipping their idol, they are willing to deceive their friends and betray their partners, because for them, money is ‘kadosh’ (sacred) and above all. And even if they curb their desire for the sacrament of wealth and do not cheat for it – because they are enslaved to it, and for its sake neglect their family and prefer to work at jobs that pay more but contribute little to society, over jobs that pay a bit less, but bring greater blessing to society.
The Idol of Pride and Honor
Some people accept upon themselves the yoke of the idol of ga’avah (pride); he tyrannizes them to the point where they are never satisfied, because their minds are always preoccupied with the question of whether they have been reverenced sufficiently, and how to receive additional honor.
And some have found a more sophisticated way of worshiping the idol of kavod (honor). Instead of pursuing personal accomplishments, they accept upon themselves to idolize various personalities, such as leaders, actors, or famous singers. And whenever their idol is honored, they also feel they have gained fame along with him. What’s their “religious” ritual? They speak in his praise, are interested in the details of his life, and if someone has the audacity to speak disreputably about their idol – even a little – at best, they’ll stand up and extol his praise, or at worst, physically attack him – as befits one who dares to ‘desecrate the holy’.
Belief in Hashem is Empowering
In contrast, accepting Malchut Hashem allows a person to express all of his potential, since the purpose of Hashem, Creator of the World, is to benefit man, to empower him and his ability of choice, so that he can pave for himself his own good path. To this end, Hashem has given us His Torah and mitzvot, by which we can empower our lives, and be privileged to be partners with Him in tikkun olam (perfection of the world) and its refinement. The mitzvot lo ta’aseh (negative commandments) are good advice meant to warn us against ways that corrupt our powers, and the mitzvot aseh (positive commandments) are good advice meant to strengthen our powers for good.
The Revelation of His Kingdom by Israel
Malchut Hashem is revealed through the Nation of Israel in its land, consequently, during the Yamim Nora’im (The Days of Awe) we pray:
“And so may Your name be sanctified, Lord our God, regarding Your people Israel, regarding Your city Jerusalem, regarding Zion, the dwelling place of Your glory, regarding the royal house of David, Your anointed, and regarding Your place and sanctuary…
Every creature will revere You, and all of creation will bow before You, and they will be bound together to carry out Your will with an undivided heart…
All wickedness will dissipate like smoke when You remove wanton governance from the earth. And You will reign – You, Lord our God, alone – over all that You made, on Mount Zion, the dwelling place of Your glory, and in Jerusalem, Your sacred city.”
Ostensibly, one could ask: Isn’t it fitting for God to rule over the whole world equally? However, the revelation of emunah (faith) is a profound, supreme, and extremely sensitive matter, which can easily be exploited and diverted in foreign ways, such as avodah zara (idolatry), or individual dominance. In order to guard emunah in its purity, as beneficial and adding blessing, Israel was chosen to serve as kohanim (priests) to the nations of the world. And this is what is special about the faith of Israel and its Torah, whose aim is to empower all peoples, with their various talents. For Israel is like the heart of the nations, destined to infuse life to all of them, and from the Land of Israel a blessing should spread to all countries. Consequently, the prayer for the restoration of the honor of Israel, is a prayer for the restoration of honor, life, and blessing to all nations of the world, and to all humanity.
The Idol of Routine
Another idol exists – the idol of habit and routine, and many people accept its yoke. Its kingdom appears seemingly modest and quiet, yet it is stubborn and domineering, and it is extremely difficult to break free from the yoke of its rule. Accepting the yoke of Heaven also requires freeing oneself from the rule of habit and routine, which do not allow a person to regenerate and progress. Therefore, in the opening of Yom Kippur we annul all vows, for even if they contain positive aspects, they are liable to bind us. After release from them, we can accept the yoke of Heaven, do teshuva, and free the neshama (soul).
Remembering to Mention ‘HaMelech HaKadosh‘ in Prayer
Since the foundation of teshuva depends on accepting the yoke Malchut Hashem, the main change in the Aseret Yemey Teshuva prayers is that instead of concluding with ‘HaKel HaKadosh’, we conclude with the words, ‘HaMelech HaKadosh.’ This matter is so severe that if one mistakenly says ‘HaKel HaKadosh’ in the third berachah and does not correct himself as he recites it (toch k’dei dibur), he must return to the beginning of the Amidah. And even if he finished the Amidah, since he did not conclude with ‘HaKel HaKadosh,’ it is as if he had not prayed, and must repeat all his prayers once again, while making sure to say ‘HaKel HaKadosh’.
Teshuva and Herut (Freedom)
The source of the idea that Yom Kippur and teshuva are connected to herut (freedom) is in the mitzvah of Yovel (Jubilee Year), which is intended to initiate a process of teshuva and herut, unparalleled in the world. Routinely, due to laziness and lust, or because of other troubles, people are sometimes forced to sell their fields. And in times of famine, were sometimes forced to sell themselves into slavery. The Torah though, guides us to be diligent and not to be dragged after our yetzer and become enslaved to debts; nevertheless, there are people whose yetzer overcomes them and they mortgage their future for the fleeting moment, to the point where they finally sell their fields and their own selves into slavery. Hashem spared them – mainly, their families – and determined for us the mitzvah of Yovel in the fiftieth year, in which all slaves are freed, and all the fields return to their owners, as written (Leviticus 25: 9-13): ” Then, on the 10th day of the seventh month (Tishrei), you shall make a proclamation with the ram’s horn. This proclamation with the ram’s horn is thus to be made on Yom Kippur. You shall sanctify the fiftieth year, declaring emancipation [of slaves] for the land and all who live on it. This is your jubilee year, when each man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family… every man shall return to his hereditary property.”
This was the order of the release of slaves: “From Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur, servants would not be released to their homes, nor would they be subjugated to their masters, nor would the fields return to their [original] owners. Instead, the servants would eat, drink, and rejoice, with crowns on their heads. When Yom Kippur arrives and the shofar is sounded in the court, the servants are released to their homes and the fields are returned to their owners” (Rambam, Laws of Shemita and Yovel 10:14). Thus, Aseret Yemey Teshuva, the days upon which Israel accepts the yoke of Malchut Hashem, are the days when slaves would celebrate and prepare for their release to freedom, which would occur on Yom Kippur.
Blowing the Shofar at the Conclusion of Yom Kippur
In memory of the shofar blast of Yovel, Israel’s custom is to blow the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur (Rabbi Hai Gaon). This is because every Yom Kippur, Israel merits freedom, akin to Yovel. Freedom from bondage to sinful desires resembles the emancipation of the slaves released to freedom. And the return of the body to the soul, is akin to the field returned to its owner. For when a person is allured after his passions, the body detaches itself from the neshama, is enslaved to foreign desires, and gives its powers to them by way of sinning. However, through the teshuva of Yom Kippur, the body returns to the neshama, rejoicing with it in the joy of a mitzvah, and in the revelation of the word of Hashem in the world. And by means of this, man merits a good and blessed life.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.