After the Sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe spent eighty days on Mount Sinai, I.e., two consecutive 40-day periods, see Rashi, Devarim 9:18. pleading for G‑d to accept the teshuvah1 of the Jewish people and forgive their sin. Finally, on the tenth of Tishrei, G‑d acquiesced, granting them complete atonement. At that time, that date, Yom Kippur, was established as a day of teshuvah and atonement for all time, as Rambam writes:2Yom Kippur is the time of teshuvah for everyone — individuals and the community — the apex of forgiveness and absolution for the Jewish people.” On that same day, G‑d gave Moshe the Second Tablets, indicating that the day is connected not only with teshuvah, but also with the Torah and its study.

Coming Face To Face With G‑d

The maamar focuses on the concept of teshuvah, explaining that it does not only involve seeking atonement for sins, but also a desire to come close to G‑d. Coming close to Him does not involve overcoming physical distance, but rather focusing one’s attention so that the relationship with Him becomes an inward connection.

In order to understand how such a connection can be developed, it first highlights the importance of Torah study: how Torah study takes precedence over all the mitzvos, how the study of the Torah can compensate for the offering of sacrifices, and how there is a mitzvah to study the entire Torah, even those aspects that are not relevant to a person’s conduct.

Torah study is not merely an intellectual pursuit. Instead, it is a process through which a person identifies and unites with G‑d. This concept enables us to understand the sequence implied by the Shema which mentions the mitzvah of Torah study in connection with both the oneness of G‑d and the love of Him stated in the Shema. The awareness of G‑d’s oneness arouses love for Him and a desire that His light be internalized within our minds and hearts. Torah study is the medium that enables this to be possible.

G‑d’s light transcends all limitation. Nevertheless, He contracts it and enclothes it in the Torah’s teachings and laws so that man can comprehend it. On one hand, this produces teachings and laws which appear as a code of conduct and ethics rather than transcendent G‑dliness. That G‑dliness, however, remains their inner core. When a person labors in Torah study, he goes beyond the Torah’s intellectual dimension and sees how it is merely a medium through which a person can perceive and unite with that G‑dly core.

Speaking In G‑d’s Voice

This is not merely an abstract concept. Through such Torah study, a person identifies with G‑d to the extent that all his potentials for expression reflect Him: his thoughts are G‑d’s thoughts and his words, G‑d’s words. Such a process is underscored in Shema when we declare3 “I will grant rain for your land...,” speaking in G‑d’s name, as it were.

For this identification to occur, one’s Torah study must be characterized by bittul.4 When a person abandons self-concern and devotes himself to G‑d, he can identify with the Divine to the extent that the words of Torah which he speaks are “the word of G‑d.”

Study on this level lifts a person above all the limits of worldly existence. In contrast, the observance of the mitzvos is dependent on those limits, for mitzvos must be fulfilled within the limits of time and space. This contrast is reflected in the teaching that a person who studies the laws of a sacrifice is considered as if he offered it. Although he is studying at night and outside the Beis HaMikdash — in which case the offering itself would be prohibited — the study of the laws are equivalent to the actual sacrifice. For the study of Torah enables man to bond with G‑d’s will as it exists within His thought, above time and space. The mitzvos, by contrast, involve the fulfillment of G‑d’s will within those limits.

Not For Angels

Nevertheless, just as we have G‑dly potentials that endow us with the capacity for bittul, we have other potentials that stem from the realm of kelipah5 that are characterized by a consciousness of self that leads to the selfish desire for worldly things.

When a person who lives a life of self-concern realizes that he is always in the presence of G‑d, he will be filled with embarrassment and shame that instead of being involved in G‑dly matters, he devoted his energy to petty material concerns. As a consequence, he will call out to G‑d in complete teshuvah. Such a commitment on man’s part evokes a response from G‑d’s Essence, drawing down new energy that enables a person to correct all his previous faults.

Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are the Ten Days of Teshuvah, each day refining and elevating a different one of our ten soul powers. On Yom Kippur, the conclusion of this process, the person is totally dedicated to G‑dliness. Therefore, he rises above his worldly concerns entirely, as reflected in the prohibitions against eating, drinking, and the like.

Thus Yom Kippur represents the quintessence of both processes described above. It is identified with the Second Tablets which point to the complete identification of a person with the Torah.6 There are times, however, that we fail to live up to these standards. Then teshuvah — also identified with Yom Kippur — enables us to compensate for whatever is lacking and develop an even deeper connection with G‑d.