There was a time when people would spend every evening of the days before Yom Kippur (and especially just before Yom Kippur) pondering their sins, their faults, and just everything wrong, bad and crummy about themselves. They would cry and sob from their hearts, fall asleep weeping, and then they would get up the next morning with a pure soul to serve their Maker. They often did this on other days of the year, and it worked pretty good then too.

Nowadays, when someone ponders his failures, it almost inevitably leads to depression. When pondering a past sin, a person starts asking himself why he did such a stupid thing, remembers what a geshmak1 it was, and ends up doing more.

So what happened? Quite simply, the darkness got thicker. When you’re surrounded by light, it’s okay to stick your nose into a few dark corners—maybe you’ll find something valuable you lost in there. But when you live in a world with the lights dimmed and all the blinds pulled down, dark corners become black holes with relentless gravitational pull.

Pondering your sins, you may just come to the conclusion that you actually enjoyed them.

That’s why repentance is so darn dangerous nowadays. When someone calls me up and says, “Rabbi, I messed up! How do I repent?” I tell them, “Repentance? Stay away from that stuff! It’s hazardous!”

So they say, “But rabbi, what am I gonna do about this sin messup deal in my life?”

And I tell ’em, “Just start running towards the light.”

“But then I’ll never do the repentance thing, like it says in all those books, about deep remorse and weeping over your sins.”

“Right now, forget the remorse and the weeping. Just get past it! It’s a trap. It’s your nasty, self-destructive snake inside trying to take you for lunch. And you’re the lunch.”

“No, rabbi, no! I gotta repent!”

“You don’t want to repent. You want a replay!”

“A what?”

“A replay. Okay, I’ll explain: When your mind experiences something pleasurable, it’s programmed to go replay it again and again, until it rewires all its neurons, readies the limbic system and has the entire endocrine system on board. That way, when the associated stimuli turn up again, by sight, smell, sound or whatever, your entire visceral person is primed to lunge for it like a hawk.

“But you won’t let your mind replay this particular messup, because you know it was real immoral, bad and crummy. So your mind, being just as smart as you are—since it is your mind after all—comes up with a solution: It says, ‘I don’t want a replay. I want to repent.’ Well, you don’t. You want a replay. Nothing to do with repenting.”

And you say: “But when will I rip away all the ugly stuff clinging to me because of this lousy thing I did?”

The brain will do anything to get its replay. Even convince you to repent.

And I answer: “So don’t repent. Do teshuvah instead.”

“That’s what I said I want to do!”

“No, you said you wanted to do repentance. I’m telling you to do teshuvah. That means “return.” Return towards the light from which your soul originally came. When you are running towards the light, filling your life with more wisdom, more understanding, more mitzvahs; more joy, love and beauty; and the light is getting brighter and brighter, and you want to reach out and talk directly, sincerely with your G‑d . . .

“. . . that’s when it hits you that the crummy messup from the past is holding you back, like a useless backpack weighing you down, like a lump of clay in your heart, like a wall between you and the true place of your soul. That’s when a genuine, aching remorse overcomes you, just swelling up all on its own from the bottom of your heart. That’s when you scream, ‘Get off my back!’

“You look behind for a sec, throw that junk away, and fly ahead. That’s when you repent. But not until then.”

During the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, there’s a lot of light. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. Don’t go wasting that away. Especially, don’t go spending the holiest time of the year dwelling on stupid things you did.

Why waste the holiest day of the year dwelling on everything you messed up?

Instead, reach towards the light. Feel the presence of an Infinite G‑d, Creator of all things, who awaits your return to Him, with love.

And as you return, let that messy, gunky stuff just fall away, never to come back again. ’Cause you’ll never want it back again, once you’ve felt the embrace of His light.

Today, only the children of light can rise.

See also Feivel Gets Stuck.