“On Rosh Hashana, they are written [in the Book of Life or the Book of Death], and on Yom Kippur [their verdict] is sealed” (from Unetaneh Tokef, part of Musaf on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). According to tradition, during these ten days we have the power to fix our ways and have our verdict changed before it is finalized at the end of Yom Kippur. The ten days from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance. The Shabbat that falls on one of these days is called Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Returning, because of the theme of returning to God and because of the opening words of the Haftarah, “Shuva Yisrael…”, “Return, Israel, to your God, for you have stumbled into transgression.”
The second verse of the Haftara begins “Take with you words and return to God.” We learn from here the requirement to confess our transgressions to God, to admit to God (and ourselves) that we have done wrong, as a necessary step in the path to forgiveness. Without admitting that we have done wrong, how can we commit to a better path and take steps to ensure the undesired behaviour doesn’t recur?
We repeat the “vidui” (confession text) ten times throughout the Yom Kippur service. It is recited in the plural, because we are not just concerned for ourselves but for our community and whole nation as well. We are all one, and are all responsible for one another. While reciting the vidui text one should discretely mention any other transgressions they feel they have done which don’t seem to be included in the list.
There are four steps in doing complete Teshuva (repentance). Sincere regret, confessing/admitting the wrongdoing, abandoning the transgressive behaviour for good, and making a sincere commitment never to repeat the transgression.
But these only work for sins between us and God. If we have done wrong to another person, before we can ask God to forgive us for that, we have to go to that person and do whatever is necessary to gain their forgiveness. This, of course, entails repairing whatever damage was done to that other person in the course of the transgression, whether it is monetary damage, emotional damage or both.
Doing Teshuva for sins committed towards another person takes much more work than Teshuva for sins committed towards God, but being able to apologize and fix whatever wrong we have done is such an important part in keeping society healthy.
While working on our Teshuva, we shouldn’t forget that God does see us all as precious human beings no matter what. We are not out mistakes, they are merely mistakes that we have done, and which, hopefully, we eventually will be able to mend.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova.