As we approach Yom Kippur, it becomes incumbent upon us to engage in Teshuvah, to repent for all the sins we have committed over the course of the year. In his book, Horeb, R' Samson Raphael Hirsch says that on Yom Kippur we should all give some thought to the following idea: if the only reason for all existence is to worship God and do His Mitzvot, then if we use our existence for other purposes, we are actually forfeiting our very right to exist. Therefore, on Yom Kippur, we must take that feeling of an unworthiness to exist and transform it into a sincere desire to become closer to God and His Mitzvot. The only way to make this transformation is via Teshuvah and it is only through Teshuvah that we can make this Yom Kippur a truly unique and spiritually uplifting experience.
However, what exactly is the true nature of Teshuvah? Is it simply a matter of going to shul and saying to God, "I disobeyed your Torah and sinned. Please forgive me?" What are the actual components of Teshuvah?
In a lecture delivered at the Gruss Institute in Jerusalem in October 1987, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein said that the first step towards Teshuvah is recognizing a particular and specific sin and leaving that sin permanently, never to do it again. By leaving that sin, one is also returning to something or Someone. One is returning to God. Every time a sin is done, that person's relationship with God is tainted. A barrier is formed between him and God. The more the person sins, the larger the barrier becomes. Therefore, Teshuvah is not just about leaving one's sins but also about restoring one's relationship with God and breaking the barrier that has formed as a result of the sins.
Yet, there is another form of Teshuvah, a form that is not directly associated with sin. In this case, there is no barrier between the person and God, but rather a gap. This gap is not formed by committing a sin directly towards God but rather by someone's complete lack of awareness that God's presence is with him during every moment of his life. He has no spiritual connection towards God who takes a back seat in the corner of his mind. The person's knowledge of Mitzvot is limited and there is nothing between him and God that could form a bridge over the gaping hole that separates them. In a situation like this, Teshuvah is not just about repenting for his sins. Instead, the central focus of his Teshuvah is to construct a bridge over the abyss which prevents him from strengthening his relationship with God.
Rav Lichtenstein mentioned, yet an additional aspect of Teshuvah. In this example, we have a person who is fully aware of God's presence, a person who understands that God must be the center of his life, and a person who understands God's Mitzvot and is careful to observe them. What this person is lacking though, is an appreciation of God and His greatness. He does not feel any deep feelings of love and fear towards Him and it is this that makes the person's relationship with God incomplete. In order for this person to do Teshuvah, he must develop a love and fear of God, as the Rambam says (Hilchot Yesodai Hatorah, 2:2): "How does one develop a love and fear of God? A person sees God's creations and the infinite wisdom behind them and is overcome by a great desire to know God. Then, upon further contemplation, he realizes that he is a small and insignificant creature compared to God and thus develops a sense of great fear and awe before Him."
The utilization of these three notions of Teshuvah should serve to make this Yom Kippur a truly unique, uplifting experience and a source of inspiration for all of Klal Yisrael.