During the Ne’ilah prayer, the prayer that culminates all the Days of Awe recited towards the conclusion of Yom Kippur, we state: “And You, Hashem our G-d, have given us this Yom Kippur etc. for pardon, forgiveness, and atonement so that we may refrain from the injustice of our hands and return to fulfill the statutes of your will with a complete heart.”
We have already discussed that the entire purpose of the Month of Mercy and Forgiveness and the Ten Days of Repentance is to prepare for Yom Kippur. At the most climactic moment of Yom Kippur, the Ne’ilah prayer, we focus on the idea that the goal of all of our service of Hashem during the past forty days has been “so that we may refrain from the injustice of our hands,” for were it not that the concept of repentance existed, most people would grow hopeless over their terrible spiritual state, give up, and merely go from bad to worse. However, Hashem, with His abundant kindness, understood the nature of His creations and created the idea of repentance and gifted it to the Jewish nation, through which one has the power to completely erase one’s sins and iniquities and return to square one. This will enable one to merit climbing from strength to strength and one will be rewarded by being inscribed and sealed for a good and blessed new year.
We all believe in the words of our Sages (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1) that everything is in the hands of Heaven and during these days, Hashem decides who will live and who will die, who will merit wealth and who will suffer poverty, who will be healthy and who will be ill, who will find their soulmate and who will remain lonely. All these things and more are decreed by Hashem, Master of the Universe.
As such, during these days when we beseech Hashem to fulfill all our heart’s desires for the good, we must certainly strengthen ourselves to repent fully before Hashem. Indeed, Rabbeinu Bechaye explains in his Chovot Ha’Levavot (Gate of Trust) that one who believes that everything is from Hashem and trusts that He can save him and yet continues on one’s sinful path is truly a fool. How can one know that everything is contingent on Hashem’s will and pray to Him while continuing to anger Him at the same time?! About such people does the prophet state, “When you come to see my face, who requested this from you, to trample my courtyards?” However, if one realizes that one requires Heavenly mercy and thus subjugates one’s self and acts with humility which leads to full repentance and begging Hashem for forgiveness, there is a much greater chance one’s prayers will be accepted.
Likewise, as a result of repenting during these days, this arouses one to feelings of love and fear of Hashem and this, in turn, will lead to fear of Heaven that will, G-d-willing, last until Elul of next year when these feelings are aroused once again. One should take care that the resolutions one accepts during this time of year should be only things that one believes one can fulfill so that one does not, G-d-forbid, come to treat the things one promises Hashem laxly.
Interestingly, the two worst months of the year for the Jewish nation have historically been those of Tammuz and Av when both Temples were destroyed and many other calamities befell our people. It is possible that this is the case because these two months are the furthest from the previous Elul and Tishri and the Jewish nation’s level of fear of Heaven was the lowest of the entire year and this allowed for Heavenly prosecution specifically during this time. As a result, harsh decrees were issued against the Jewish nation and although the Days of Mercy and Forgiveness were soon in coming, it was already too late.
Let us just ponder the fact that many people who were with us just last year are not longer with us anymore. All terrible tragedies that befell the entire world this past year were decreed last Rosh Hashanah. Would we have known what was in store for the year 5780/2020, we would have stormed the Heavens with our prayers, especially that of “Remove illness from your inheritance.” However, we had no idea. These thoughts should provoke us to utilize these days to repent fully before Hashem in ways that will stand the test of time. May we merit that Hashem accept our prayers and that we hear good news of salvation and comfort, Amen.
(Based on a discourse delivered by Hagaon Harav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)