This Shabbos Jews worldwide join to mark Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. As we do so, we all focus on the main message of the day – Repentance. The beautiful fact that the Almighty loves a Jew when he or she comes back to Him, even if they have strayed from doing exactly what they should have, is a tremendous anchor of hope for us in these days. The gates of Heaven remain open for only a number of hours as we must take the opportunity to reconnect with Hashem.
At the same time that this is true, we are told that we must make amends to our fellow men on the day before Yom Kippur. Sins that were done from man to man can’t be forgiven unless the one we have wronged forgives us. The focus here is not to just make amends with our friends who we don’t have any issue with, but especially with those who we have wronged. Only after we have squared away our issues with each other, can we rectify our relationship with Hashem.
We are taught that while righteous people are inscribed and signed for life on Rosh Hashana, and wicked people are inscribed and signed for death then, beinonim – those who are in the middle, are waiting to be finalized until Yom Kippur. Maimonides goes on to say that the only way they can be inscribed for a year of life is if they repent – if they do teshuva. This is something of great importance, as we are taught that everyone is supposed to look at himself or herself as being from the group of beinonim . An obvious question that should bother us though, is why is teshuva – repentance the only way out for people who are in the middle? Would it not seem that they can get out of the place they are in by simply doing any another mitzvah and thus tipping the scales in their own favor? Why is so essential that only teshuva be done?
A beautiful answer is given in the famous work called Kochvai Ohr by Rav Itzel Peterberger. He points out that if the king takes the time to make a personal visit to one of his subjects, and the person doesn’t even bother to respond to the kings overtures, that in itself is a slight to the king. For that in itself a person would deserve to be punished.
When Hashem comes to the heart of every Jew in these days, and offers him or her the chance to come close to Him, we must respond. To just ignore that and not attempt in any way to get closer to Him would in itself be a sin, greater than any other mitzvah we can do in these days.