Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, gave us a chance to reflect upon the past, and perhaps make some New Year’s resolutions for the future. So why do we celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance, ten days later?
First and foremost, our Sages teach us that the Judgments made on Rosh Hashanah are not finalized until Yom Kippur. G-d is waiting, as it were, to see if we will give up our misdeeds and change course.
There is another idea, related to repentance itself. Sometimes the full measure of regret is only possible once we have improved our habits. Only after we have done better for a while can we look over our shoulders and say, “I should’ve done this a long time ago! Look what I missed because I didn’t!” So on Yom Kippur, having attempted to be on “our best behavior” for ten days, we express our regrets with a more complete understanding of the opportunities we missed along the way.
And there is yet another thought – that human nature being what it is, sometimes we make resolutions and find that all too soon we have failed to keep them. At that point a person can conclude that he or she can never improve, and give up hope.
The Chassidic Masters teach that that feeling of hopelessness is itself a terrible thing, to be avoided at all cost. The Evil Inclination’s ultimate goal, they say, isn’t merely that we sin, that we diverge from the path that G-d has set out for us. It is that we give up hope! Once there is no hope, not only will the past be repeated, but new misdeeds will be added as well.
Yom Kippur drives home the message that even the Day of Judgment isn’t final, that we always have the opportunity to truly put the past behind us. Yom Kippur gives us the power to go back and change the verdict. We are taught that the sanctity of the day itself absolves us from some minor transgressions; that is how powerful the day is, and that power is given to every one of us.
So what do we do with those resolutions which we made on Rosh Hashanah, only to break afterwards? We pick them back up, and try again. We do not give up hope, we don’t say that we simply can’t improve. On the contrary — we add new ones, we take the additional day to do an accounting and find paths to change ourselves for the better.
May we all be sealed into the Book of Life for a year of health, happiness and growth!