Coming Clean: the Teshuva of Yom Kippur



By Ariella Bracha Waldinger

Great-Canyon-Lake-lake-wallpaper-landscape-1366x768Who doesn’t love taking a long, soothing hot shower to clean away the dirt after a long day of work? The hot water has the ability to literally wash away the grit and grime allowing us to emerge feeling wholly cleansed and miraculously restored. It feels so invigorating. What a fabulous feeling! The services and atonement on Yom Kippur can be compared to taking a shower, because they have the power to cleanse us spiritually, in a healing shower of forgiveness and renewal. Just as the body requires physical cleansing, so too the soul requires spiritual cleansing. Yom Kippur is the most elevating day of the year, the day set aside by G-d for this spiritual cleansing because the focus of the day is totally spiritual. The powerful prayers of the day have the ability to unite the body and soul due to the mandated requirements of the day.  As a result of the unifying aspects along with a heavenly effluence of divine mercy, we become spiritually transformed and cleaned from the inside out.

The opportunity to “come clean” is the greatest gift….the greatest truth we have been given and the cleaning agent is free. The cleaning agent is called teshuva and it has the most extraordinary power to cause the dirt, i.e. the wrongdoings, to yield to its cleaning ability and disappear. And yet, if we do not use this cleaning agent, the dirt remains clinging to us. It is interesting to note that the term “coming clean” really means owning up to anything that has us trapped or addicted. It means admitting to something to which it is hard to admit. “Coming clean” means getting real and getting to the core of what is preventing the dirt or stains from being removed. Often, it is the power of resistance to change and the power of admitting the truth about ourselves to ourselves, others and G-d. Remember, admitting our mistakes can be painful and yet it frees us from the agony that gnaws at our unconscious mind. When we avoid teshuva, we pay a price, as we lose an aspect of our inner vitality.

We began our cleansing teshuva process in Elul and worked through the month to remove the stains. On Rosh Hashana, we crowned HaShem as King and now on Yom Kippur, through the entire service of the day and the teshuva we do, HaShem completes the task of our atonement through His forgiveness. Interestingly, on Yom Kippur we do not shower or wash at all or anoint ourselves with oils, lotions, or creams because our bodies, through the elevation of our souls, become receptacles for G-dliness to permeate our being. No physical washing is needed as a spiritual cleansing occurs throughout the entire Yom Kippur day.

In the book, “The Song of Teshuva,” A Commentary on Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook’s Orot HaTeshuva, by Moshe Weinberger, it states in Chapter Four that “Teshuva preceded creation and is therefore the foundation of the world. Teshuva rectifies the damage and thus brings the world back to its foundation of supernal essence which is the world of freedom. The spirit of teshuva hovers in the world and gives the world all of its ability to attain beauty and glory. The Rav states, that teshuva takes place on all levels, in all worlds. Everything is returning to G-d on a progressively rising tide of teshuva, and souls grow increasingly filled with a new life, as a result of the light of teshuva entering into them. This is a continuous process and inspires people to come back to Hashem: to learn more Torah, to pray more and to perform more mitzvot. As light flows from above, from the world of teshuva that preceded creation, we work to become better.  When we do teshuva, our energy is reinvested into that treasury, that well-spring and then it comes down again more intensely and reflects back to us or to others. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that even a person’s mere thought of teshuva can have a tremendous effect on the cosmos. This is the nature of a person’s contribution to the wellspring, to the treasury of teshuva.

Chapter five states “when a person does teshuva and rids himself of his unhealthy attributes, he is unburdened and this leads to joy. Teshuva is a form of spiritual evolution, as it is a process that takes place deep within a Jew, propelling him forward towards perfection and health. The author says teshuva is the healthiest feeling of the spirit and that the soul feels natural delight. Teshuva is a powerful, dynamic light of freedom that when achieved can shine in its fullness and strength. Without teshuva, a person could not find tranquility in the world and his spiritual life would not be able to be developed in the world. Through teshuva, the world will rise to its true revival as the new revelation will draw everyone’s heart with its splendor. Teshuva gives a person serenity and security, as it puts back together the pieces of our fragmented selves. The longing for perfection and greatness is the foundation and essence of teshuva because with the knowledge and presence of teshuva, he can move forward and perfect his life.

Chapter six states that teshuva had to precede the world because it is the foundation upon which the world is built. There are many people who view teshuva with a negative viewpoint, thinking it takes one away from life. But that cannot be, because teshuva being the foundation of life is natural and healthy.  The process of teshuva is in the nature of a wedding with the divine. Yom Kippur, the wedding day is a day of tremendous potential and unparalleled joy. This fact makes a person cry but it is not in sadness. A wedding brings with it many responsibilities which can be frightening, but it is good and creates tremendous joy.

key holeThus, we perceive that Yom Kippur: the Day of Atonement is in reality a day of complete REBIRTH on all levels. As we “come clean” with our confessions of wrongdoings, we “come clean” from G-ds gift of atonement.  Rav Kook concludes with an astonishing insight and states that “even greater than teshuva, Yom Kippur has the ability to restore man’s desire for Hashem. It has the potential to rekindle our relationship with G-d in the deepest way, if we truly desire it. Thus forgiven, cleansed and renewed, we can re-enter life in a deeper, sweeter more G-d connected way of great wholeness. We have received a spiritual infusion of holy forgiveness and sustenance that can carry us through the year enabling us to sanctify our moments with purity and spiritual richness adding great blessings to the world.

With blessings for a deep, soul attuned, awareness of the depth of Yom Kippur and all its potential to enable us to return to Hashem in complete teshuva and bring Moshiach and our beloved Beit Hamikdash. May all of Am Yisrael be written and sealed for a blessed year of only revealed good feelings completely cleansed in mind, body and soul.

With Love and gratitude, Ariella Bracha






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