I have a suspicion that what we’re all really searching for, beneath the myriad quests we embark upon, is the fifth dimension. By that I mean the elusive essence that binds all else together.

Think of the elemental forces of the universe. We have the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force and gravity. Although a fifth one is not proven experimentally, scientists refer to strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that a Grand Unified Theory which unites three of these forces together is required to make sense of the Universe. Better yet, they suggest a super-unified one that unites all four fundamental forces into one single power.

Or It takes one day on the calendar given to us as a gift from G‑d to actually touch the Oneness that unites everythingtake the notion of a fifth dimension. From a scientific point of view, it’s hypothetical. Empirically, we can only measure the usual three spatial dimensions and the one time dimension of relativity. But scientists are driven to identify a fifth.

I’d posit that although there might be compelling evidence that sets them off in search of a fifth force or dimension, there’s something else that’s prompting the search. Surely, it’s that the deep inner intuition of the soul calls out to the thinker that there must be one entity that binds all of reality together.

Scientists or not, we spend our waking and sleeping moments in search of that “super-unified field.” And while we might by superhuman effort approach some sensing of unity from afar, it takes one specific day on the calendar given to us as a gift from G‑d to actually touch the Oneness that unites everything.

The day is Yom Kippur. It holds within it the very essence of the universe and of who we are. It brings together space, time and soul in one indivisible point that paradoxically contains every detail of existence. Yom Kippur is the “fifth dimension” that courses through both the expanse of the universe and deep within us. By paying attention to the way the day itself works, we can gain insight into this transcendent dimension of creation. We can access our most fundamental bond with the Creator and our own inner workings. We get to touch the one point from which all our other dimensions and powers derive.

The Talmud presents a telling debate between the sages as to just how Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, works. Most of the rabbis are of the opinion that its efficacy is only for those who repent. Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi, on the other hand, is of the opinion that whether or not the person repented, Yom Kippur accomplishes what it has to because “the essence of the day atones.”1

Embedded in this discussion lies a secret of life.

Our ability to change the order of creation is something that is built into creation itself. The catalyst for that is repentance. It begins as an awakening. At some level, we’re all asleep. We’re all lacking awareness and mindfulness. Consequently, our actions move out of alignment with the will of G‑d. We sin, and become estranged from all that we hold most dear at our core. Awakening from this spiritual slumber—by repenting—activates an essential connection point between us and our Creator. This dynamic is not something we generate just because we really, really want our destiny to change. Our willfulness is not what creates a way out. This ability to disrupt the laws of cause and effect or reward and punishment is a gift built into the blueprint of existence. G‑d put it there from the get-go.Embedded in this discussion lies a secret of life. Our ability to change the order of creation is something that is built into creation itself

To fully understand how repentance works, we first need to grasp that each of us exists in relation to G‑d in a variety of ways.

At the most basic level, our connection is established through the observance of the commandments and accepting upon ourselves—dare I say it—the yoke of Heaven. The bottom line of such a consciousness is that we’re ready to do whatever it is that G‑d asks of us—whether it feels right or not, whether it suits us or not. No cheeseburgers—okay; praying three times a day—well, all right; giving ten percent of our income back to G‑d in the form of charity—really!?; covering our knees and yes, our heads too—you’ve got to be kidding, but . . . all right! It’s quite contrary to the notion that if we just sit quietly for long enough, we’ll intuit what we’re meant to do and how we’re meant to feel.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for intuition. It’s not only artists who are beholden to their muse. The scientist in search of a super-unified field needs hers too. Ditto for the mom trying to figure out what’s churning in her teen’s heart. But you don’t arrive at divine truth from the limitations of your own consciousness. Your ego just doesn’t cut it. There’s a teaching that if you’re in a dilemma as to what a ruling in a particular legal case might be, go ask the average guy in the street. And then . . . do the opposite! Because Everyman doesn’t get it. He’s too blinded by the limitations of intellect and ego. To unite with G‑d, you need to approach the Him on His terms.

This, then, defines our most basic bond with G‑d. It is established through study and deed. Our first step to connection with the divine is to courageously surrender our willfulness to the will of G‑d. That manifests as a life lived in adherence to the commandments.

But, with all our good intentions and commitment to surrender, the will of our animal soul is frequently the one that’s holding the reins of life. As such, we veer from our commitments to both our higher selves and to G‑d. In doing so, we blemish our soul. Even more so, we tarnish the entire order of creation.

Eventually, at some point, the deep inner voice of our G‑dly soul makes itself heard on the edge of our awareness. If we’re lucky, and sincere and courageous enough, we experience regret and turn back to G‑d and to who we truly are.

This happens in stages. First comes regret. The knowledge of our spiritual ill is half of the healing. Without an accurate diagnosis, all the healing remedies and tools in the world are of no use to us. Without an acknowledgement from ourselves that we are ill, we can’t even begin to seek a cure. A person who suffers from delusion but is convinced her doctor is in cahoots with the characters of her imagination is about as far as one can be from healing, even while sitting opposite the health practitioner. An addict in denial cannot begin to be freed of the disease. So, knowing we’re ill, and feeling the loss of what real life is like, signifies the blessed end of an era. Feeling regret is the end of the old world order and the beginning of a new beginning.

Then comes confession. It’s tough to say it, to articulate to ourselves, let alone to another human being or to G‑d, that we’ve wasted hours or days or years, that we’ve sacrificed our higher self on the altar of our desire. But doing so uproots a negative force within us that has been generated by our inappropriate acts. This impurity is a force which is fed by virtue of our stepping outside the will of G‑d. Each of these impure forces has both a body and a spirit. When we verbally confess, we uproot the body of that force. We eliminate a negative presence from our being.

The Feeling regret is the end of the old world order and the beginning of a new beginningspirit of the negative force, though, is uprooted by regret. Just as in acting against the will of G‑d there is the act and also the driving desire or fear which drives that act, so too, in the cleansing of the act there is the body and the spirit. The verbal confession takes care of the “body” of what we’ve done. The inner experience of regret neutralizes the inner feeling that compelled us to it in the first place.

When all is felt, said and done, we find ourselves standing in a new place in relation to G‑d. Here, despite the laws of reward and punishment and cause and effect, we find that we are still in relationship with G‑d.

In other words the connection we have with G‑d that is established through repentance is deeper than that which exists by virtue of our fulfilling the commandments and accepting the yoke of heaven upon ourselves. Our repentance is born of the fact that when we transgress G‑d’s will, it bothers us! It’s not that we looked in a book, or heard a rabbi speaking from a pulpit. Our true G‑dly intuition kicks in. Our soul’s resonance with the truths of the universe and our Creator makes itself felt as regret. This moment is born of a deeper dimension within us, and a deeper connection with G‑d. That’s why it is the moment that allows for a turnaround.

Because this connection comes from a deeper place than our revealed connection to G‑d established through the commandments, it has the power to wash away the blemishes that arise from transgressing G‑d’s will. Think of it this way: There’s the will of G‑d. And then there’s G‑d Himself, who is the Master of that very will. The commandments flow from the will, while repentance is rooted in the level of the “Master of the will.” In that place, G‑d decides what happens. That’s why I say that our ability to change the order of creation is something that is built into creation itself. By virtue of the gift of repentance embedded in reality from the beginning of time, we get to leap outside the laws of cause and effect; we transcend the six-sided cube of regular existence, and create a new reality.

Yet, as remarkable an ability as this creative G‑d-given ability is, it’s still limited. The boundaries of the power of repentance are the fact that it’s circumscribed by actually repenting. Without it, we remain ill and locked into our addictions.

There is, however, a third dimension to our bond with G‑d. It is an essential bond. By that I mean one that is in no way defined by anything, not even repentance. It is a bond that exists because it exists. Think of the love between a parent and child. You don’t love your kid because she’s clever, or because he’s got great teeth. You love your child because you do. It’s an essence-love—free of cause, free of form. That parental love is only a glimmer of a reflection of G‑d’s love for us. We are loved because we exist, not because of the way in which we exist or how we manifest our gifts. We are loved infinitely, simply because we exist.

Actually, because this love is so essential, whatever good you do is of no relevance here. This particular bond cannot be expressed in action, or in any manner of serving G‑d. That’s because no matter how high or deep your deed or feeling might be, it’s limited. You’re a person, a soul in a body. So, your thoughts, emotions, speech and deeds can never be a vessel for an infinite essential love. Rather, this bond exists by virtue of your essence. It is part of your core nature and identity. It flows from the essence of your soul, which is itself a part of G‑d. And, even as a soul within a body and all the limitations that brings, you are never separated from this essential self.

Now, We are loved because we exist, not because of the way in which we exist or how we manifest our giftsjust as this connection cannot be generated by our actions, so too can it not be damaged or compromised by what we don’t do or what we choose to do against G‑d. It’s an untouchable place. You can’t do anything to make it happen, and you can’t do a thing to break the bond.

We rarely contemplate this dimension of who we are, though I’m sure our lives would look a lot different if we did.

At the same time, conscious access to this dimension of who we are is not accessible on a daily basis. In fact, it’s only to be had on rare occasions. One day a year, to be precise—namely, Yom Kippur. So, if you live to be eighty, you get eighty revelations of who you really are at your deepest core. Seventy-five? Then seventy-five. Certainly, it’s there all the time, but to actually have access to it and to experience the benefits of this dimension happens once a year.

Yom Kippur reveals this essential connection. It takes us way past our first point of connection, which is the bond between us and G‑d that is established through the commandments. It also takes us past that level where sin has made an impact and caused a blemish. Repentance works for that level, because it reveals a deeper connection between us and G‑d, and removes the sin.

But the atonement of Yom Kippur is generated from the level where a priori there is no blemish. Thus, as soon as this level is revealed, all blemishes automatically fall away. The magic of the day, its sublime mystery, is that life is transformed by virtue of G‑d’s essence shining into ours.

In light of the above, we can now understand just what the debate between Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi and the rabbis was about. As previously stated, the rabbis say that the efficacy of Yom Kippur is only for those who repent. Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi, on the other hand is of the opinion that whether or not the person repented, Yom Kippur accomplishes what it has to because “the essence of the day atones.”

The rabbis are not claiming here that there is not something unique about Yom Kippur, and that repentance alone does the job. They, too, are of the opinion that an individual cannot by virtue of his or her own effort reach the level of atonement which comes with the essence of Yom Kippur. So, no one in this conversation holds the opinion that it is our own efforts and repentance which accomplish this deepest dimension of atonement.

The issue at hand here is how you reach that level of atonement and forgiveness. The question is whether one needs repentance in order to reveal this lofty level of atonement. Rabbi Yehudah is of the opinion that even without our efforts to repent, the essence of the day shines and fulfills its purpose. It accomplishes what it must, regardless of our lack of initiative or action. The rabbis, by contrast, posit that in order to actually reach the atonement that lies at the heart of Yom Kippur, you have to first repent. They agree that what the day affords us is infinitely higher than anything we could accomplish by virtue of our own effort. But they hold that in order to reach that transcendent dimension, we have to do something.

Either You can’t do anything to make it happen, and you can’t do a thing to break the bondway, everyone agrees there is an unearthly, and even “unheavenly,” light that shines on this day, which comes from such a high place that it unifies everything. Yom Kippur reveals the super-unified force of existence. On this day we have a coming together of space, time and soul. In one place (the Holy of Holies), on one day (Yom Kippur), one person (the high priest) all came together. This unity captures in our physical world the oneness of G‑d that permeates reality.

Concerning the high priest’s entry into the most holy place in the universe, we are told,2 “No man can be in the tent of meeting.” The Jerusalem Talmud comments that this excludes “even those about whom it is stated, ‘The appearance of their faces was like that of a person.’” It is referring to the chayot, the highest of angels. Even they were banned from entry. This was a sacred space and time reserved for union between G‑d and the high priest alone. And, because the priest entered on behalf of the entire Jewish people, his presence there signified the essential, indivisible bond between the entire nation and G‑d, beyond the limits of time and space.

This union happened even in the Second Temple, where the Ark was no longer. The Ark housed the tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been carved. It is the most potent symbol of the Torah. The implication of this profound bond happening even in a space where the Torah was absent is that on Yom Kippur, our bond with G‑d transcends Torah.

We may feel that today it is impossible to access this lofty level. We no longer have the Temple or the high priest. We’re left with time, a day that is flooded with potential but no space or vessel to draw it down in to. But that would be wrong. Prayer replaces the sacrifices. Through the prayers of Yom Kippur, we can each personally enter into our own Holy of Holies.

On an average day we are obligated to pray three standard prayers: in the morning, afternoon and evening. On Shabbat or the festivals, we have an additional prayer service. Yom Kippur, though, is different. It is the only day of the year when we have to pray five prayers, the fifth being Neilah.

These services correspond to the five levels of the soul.3 The fifth prayer of Yom Kippur, Neilah, corresponds to the yechidah, or “unique and essence soul.” This level is the bedrock of who we are, truly a part of G‑d. In this dimension, we are part of our Creator, not of creation. Here nothing is of relevance, nothing can impact who we are. It’s just us and G‑d, oneness within Oneness.

The meaning of the word neilah is “locked.” At that moment we find ourselves locked in a secret dimension with G‑d, alone. And although this dimension is most revealed during the fifth prayer, it is present throughout the day. Certainly, each hour of the day has its prayer. But throughout Yom Kippur the day is permeated by the fifth dimension, the yechidah or core oneness of being.

One might say that Shabbat and the holidays are the Grand Unified Theory of the Jewish calendar. But the Super-Unified Theory is Yom Kippur. It lifts us out of the limitations of space, and even of soul. It lifts us beyond the limitations of the myriad levels of our psyche and soul. It allows us to remain souls in bodies within a pluralistic universe, and yet to experience the Oneness we’re compelled to seek in all our other waking moments.