Yom Kippur is the day of teshuvah for all Jews.1 Teshuvah in Hebrew does not mean repentance as is usually mistranslated and as we understand it in English. Teshuvah really means return. The word in Hebrew connotes a return along the same road.2

On Yom Kippur it is a mitzvah for every Jew to do teshuvah and every Jew includes Tzaddikim.3 What does it mean for a Rebbe, a Tzaddik, with no Yetzer Hora with no difficulty in overcoming the tests of ordinary people in this world, to do teshuvah ? It cannot simply be a regret for sin; if that were so, Tzaddikim would have no job to do on Yom Kippur. The answer is that teshuvah connotes the return to the connection to Hashem at such level that existed before the descent of the neshomah into the body.4 A Tzaddik has the capacity to return to his source, i.e. his neshomah to Hashem’s essence as does a lowly transgressor. At this level, the neshomah is free of transgressions, free from any non-observance of mitzvos. This is the background to the dynamics of neshomos on Yom Kippur.

Jews exist on this planet because their neshomos are reluctantly lowered down into bodies, unwilling occupiers of a hostile environment. The task of each neshomah is to overcome the newfound needs and lusts of the physical body in a physical environment. It is not sufficient to describe the neshomah’s return to its source; we need to conceive as far as possible what that source is.

Hashem created the first man and blew into his nostrils a breath of life.5 Blowing is a much deeper level than speaking. When a person speaks, he speaks basically with his mouth, tongue, lips, teeth and larynx. When he blows, the breath comes from the most innermost part of the person. A person can talk all day with little likelihood of being tired. Should he however attend his nine year old’s birthday party and be assigned the job of inflating fifty balloons, he will probably experience exhaustion.

It is fascinating that one of the great secrets of Torah is that the whole order of creation was done through ten sayings. G‑d said, “Let there be light”, “Let there be heaven”, “Let there be an earth”, “Let there be lights in the sky”, etc. The creative process was by speech. Speech is an outer garment and sets up a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, until the reflection becomes so faint that ultimately we have nature which is a shield of, and an impediment to, seeing G‑dliness.

The neshomah of man, adom, on the other hand, was not created by speech but by G‑d blowing, so to speak, from His inside. All previous creation was from Hashem’s speech, so to speak, from His more external level.

We have learned (see Building Block No. 2) that there is no descent without the potential for a corresponding ascent. The reluctant neshomah undergoes the enormous descent, from the highest level of being one with Hashem to the lowest level of inhabiting a physical body in a physical world. The purpose of this exile to a hostile environment is to ultimately ascend to a level higher than before the descent.6 This principle holds true of all human endeavor whether spiritual, intellectual or physical.

Sometimes the neshomah will fail to be elevated through failing the tests which are of course opportunities for this elevation. A moments reflection sees these tests falling into three categories:

The first is the category of overcoming one’s needs. Every neshomah battles to both satisfy and overcome the needs and lusts of the body. The constant temptation is to overindulge even in things permitted. The cravings of our flesh are orchestrated into symphonies of persuasion by the intellect.

The second is the category of coping with the environment. The physical problems of heat, cold and shelter, and gaining sufficient income appear to be a full time job.

The third is the category of trying to keep in perspective daily that one is a neshomah in a body and that all that is going on physically is only a series of tests. Jews are not sent down into this world with the sole purpose of accumulating
10m. We are here for a specific task; to refine the body and to elevate the environment.

The job is so difficult because the descent is so great. We can all testify that it is enormously difficult not only monthly or weekly but daily; not only daily but hourly and momentarily. The failure rate seems great and the penalty for that failure rate is the progressive severance of the neshomah from its source. At a conscious level any such severance would be unthinkable for a Jew as there is a natural dependence of every neshomah upon Hashem. If he only knew about it at the time, whenever a Jew commits a transgression, there is a disconnection of that relationship. He goes momentarily blind and experiences amnesia.7 Forgotten is Hashem, forgotten is the plight of the neshomah, all reality is restricted to the object of the momentary desire. On Yom Kippur the process of teshuvah is to make good all the single acts of severance between a neshomah and Hashem that took place all year long, to return the neshomah to that “place” from which it was blown.

As we will learn together in the chapter on Purim, there is in the world that which we see as nature, and there is that which is above nature.8 Jews are connected to that which is above nature. The nations of the world are entrusted to study nature. Their task is immensely important; we need the fruits of this study and we learn from, and use, the resultant technology. Nevertheless, the nations are studying the curtain and our function is to be in touch with what is behind the curtain. We, are entrusted with the task of bringing that which is behind the curtain into view and existence in physicality.

A physical example is fire. Scientists define fire in various ways. The most common definition is light and heat coupled with combustion. The nations have brought about amazing discoveries proceeding from this observation of strands of the curtain. This definition is fine for studying the curtain. Behind the curtain we learn that fire is one of the four yesoidos (foundations) of creation.9 For fire to exist on a candle, there must be a wick. At a spiritual level, the wick of G‑dliness in this world is Torah and mitzvos.10 A Jew doing 248 positive mitzvos and 365 negative mitzvos keeps the spiritual flame on the physical wick, the wick of mitzvos. If there were no wick, G‑d forbid, the flame of spiritual light would disappear from the physicality. Consequently, it is revealed in Torah that unless there are Jews learning Torah and doing mitzvos the world will vanish.11 Why? Because there will be no wick. There must be a wick however small.

In order for there to be a choice, it needs to be equal.12 Not only equal, but exactly equal. So equal that the choice is absolute. This means that if there is a positive priority to go right, there must be a negative availability to go left of exactly the same intensity. Otherwise, there is no choice. So if we are going to have a fire in the world and if that fire is going to have the wick of mitzvos, and that is the fire of G‑dliness, there must be an equal fire, that is a strange fire, and there has to be kelipah13 (evil) and the wick for kelipah is thought, speech and action of a negative kind.

Consider stealing:

A person is financially pressured. His kids need braces on their teeth. Let us forget about having needs that are physical dependencies. Everybody knows what financial pressures are from time to time. There is the apparent alternative of stealing some money or manipulating money by way of some kind of theft. The thought, speech and action of that process is the wick for that strange fire. It is the greatest stupidity because, if a man really believes in G‑d and Hashgochah Protis ; if he understands that, subject only to his effort, his portion is handed out on Rosh HaShanah, imagining that he can take the portion of somebody else when Hashem is not looking is totally childish because it exhibits lack of daas (See Building Block No. 3).

On Yom Kippur, one has to fan out all the strange fire and dismantle those wicks. Repentance is also commendable. The issue however is that one has got to scramble back to above the position from which he moved into wrong. This may be difficult because, in the case of our thief, he has to first make restitution of the money. On Yom Kippur, we seek forgiveness for two distinct categories of transgressions. There are those a person does man to man and there are those a person does man to G‑d. If five days in the year Shimon did not daven Shema (it is a mitzvah in Torah to daven Shema twice a day), then on Yom Kippur he can come to Hashem and, if he is sincere and regrets it, he can return his neshomah to the position where it was before he neglected to daven Shema. But if Shimon has manipulated a theft from Reuven, then he must first restore Reuven’s position; only then is a dialogue with Hashem available in relation to Reuven.

We are told that a Baal Teshuvah stands in a place a Tzaddik cannot stand.14 There are two questions to this; how and why.15 The how is to make a new wick and relight the extinguished fire. All that is needed is sufficient sincerity. Sufficient teshuvah can light the fire with an explosion of cataclysmic proportions. The why lies in the essential difference between a Tzaddik and us. A Tzaddik has no Yetzer Hora left, no desire to do any bad. He is as free from temptations to transgress the will of Hashem as a non-smoker is free of the need to smoke a cigarette. Indeed, a complete Tzaddik is a vehicle driven entirely by the will of Hashem. But when a Baal Teshuvah returns his neshomah to be reunited with its source which we have learned is part of G‑d Himself the spiritual power released makes a nuclear reaction trivial. All the bad the person has done; all the transgressions are snapped back into mitzvos launching the neshomah to the highest of peaks. This is the awesome power of a Jew on Yom Kippur. He has the capacity of springboarding his neshomah all the way back to its source all the way back to the essence of Hashem Himself. It is the music of this possibility every Jewish neshomah hears as Yom Kippur approaches. It is the need to hear this music that magically draws so many Jews to synagogue once a year.