For the sin which we have committed before You...

Yom Kippur comes and goes every year. We approach the Day of Judgment with trepidation, we know that on this day G‑d will seal our fate for the next year and this is our final chance to influence the outcome of the judgment. But if we think about it, although we made resolutions and promises last Yom Kippur, can we honestly say that this year was much better than the previous year? Does Yom Kippur really change the way we live our lives? Does it have a permanent effect? Unfortunately, for many of us the answers to these questions are in the negative. So what is the point of this annual Yom Kippur exercise?

Yom Kippur or Day of Judgment holds within it one of the Torah’s most profound messages: there is always a second chance. No matter how far we have strayed and no matter how sinful we have been there is always an opportunity to start afresh. Even if we repented last year for the same exact sins, our all-merciful Father in heaven is nonetheless prepared to accept our repentance as if we are saying sorry for the first time.

Nowhere is this more powerfully expressed than in the Yom Kippur prayers. The confession of sins is an integral part of the Yom Kippur liturgy. The confessions are first made during the afternoon service on Yom Kippur eve. For our sins can be atoned for on Yom Kippur we must first confess to the sins that were committed. Thus, before the Day of Atonement starts we confess our sins. The question, however, is why does one need to repeat the confessions in four of the five Yom Kippur prayers; shouldn’t one pre-atonement confession suffice?

We may have inadvertently sinned after one of the previous confessions we are given the opportunity to re-confess in a subsequent prayer thus enabling us to seek a second atonement. So, although we confessed just two hours earlier but again sinned, the chance for atonement is still available.

The message is loud and clear: no matter what went before, G‑d judges us based on the here and now. Since at this moment we are full of remorse and are confessing our sins G‑d forgives us. What happened in the past and what may happen in the future is irrelevant.

In order for our confession to affect atonement our confession and remorse must be sincere. We may not say to ourselves, “I am just going through the Yom Kippur motions of confessing but after Yom Kippur I will return to ‘normal’ life again.” In order to ensure atonement on Yom Kippur, when we confess on we must not have such feelings in our heart. And here is where the next idea behind our annual Day of Judgment comes in.

In the fast paced world that we life in, when lots of us don’t even have enough time to spend with our families, we virtually never have time for introspection. We therefore, on the whole, live life unchecked. We rarely have the opportunity to examine whether we have behaved to others in a decent manner or whether we are growing spiritually.

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, we are forced to face our inner demons. We are forced to confront out shortcomings and stand up to them. We are given the opportunity to feel real regret and remorse and make positive resolutions for the coming year. This yearly introspection, subconsciously at least, ensures that we live a life of accountability. We know that once a year we will have to account for our actions, not only to G‑d, but to ourselves as well. So, Yom Kippur helps to make sure that we do not get carried away with life to the extent that we are unaware of our shortcomings; it ensures that we maintain not only our spiritual health but our personal decency as well.

Let us make sure that we make the most of our annual Yom Kippur and reserve our place not only in G‑d’s book of life but in our own as well – remember it is all in our hands.