The "Aseret Yemai
Some of what follows is based on these works: "The Festivals in Halachah," by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, ZT"L, translated by Rabbi Shlomo Fox-Ashrei, and published in 1981 by Mesorah Publications (NY) and Hillel Publications (Jerusalem) and on the work "Aspaklarya," by Rabbi Shmuel Avraham Adler, published by Aspaklarya in 1996 (Jerusalem)
The term "Aseret Yemei Teshuvah" is not found in the Talmud Bavli, although the days referred to are mentioned there. The expression used in the Bavli is "the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim." In the literature of the Geonim, we also find "the ten days from the beginning of Tishrei to Yom HaKippurim," "the first ten days of the month of Tishrei," "(the time) between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim." But the term commonly used now, "Aseret Yemai Teshuvah," is also found in early sources. It is used in the Talmud Yerushalmi, by Pesikta Rabbati, a Midrash, and it is also found in the literature of the Geonim. But ever since the days of the Rishonim, literally the "first" or the "early" ones, referring to post-Talmudic and Geonic times; actually Torah scholars from approximately the eleventh century through the fifteenth, "Aseret Yemai Teshuvah" is the most popular title for this period of time in the Hebrew Calendar.
Teshuvah as the Main Element in the "Aseret Yemai Teshuvah"
The Act of "Teshuvah," is an act applicable and appropriate for all times of the year; it is therefore not a "Mitzvat Aseh SheHaZman Garma," a time-bound Positive Commandment. Therefore, since women are not obligated only in time-bound Positive Commandments, "Teshuvah" is applicable to men and women during the entire year.
However, in the words of the RAMBAM in "Hilchot Teshuvah," "The Laws of Repentance" (2:6), "Despite the fact that "Teshuvah" and crying out to HaShem are always timely, during the Ten Days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim it is exceedingly appropriate, and is accepted immediately, as it says, 'Seek HaShem when He is to be found' (Yeshayahu 55:6)."
The source of this statement of the RAMBAM is Masechet Rosh HaShanah (18a) where it is written, "Seek HaShem when He is to be found - these are the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim."
The RAMBAM continues in "Hilchot Teshuvah" (3:4) " Every person should view himself all year as if he were half innocent and half guilty. And that is the way he should look at the world as well, as if it were half innocent and half guilty. If he would do just one sin, he would thereby tip both himself and the entire world towards the "guilty" side, and cause it great destruction. And If he would do just one "Mitzvah," he would tip both himself and the entire world towards the "innocent" side and cause for himself and for them salvation, as it says "The Righteous Person is the Foundation of the World" - because his being righteous tipped the world for good, and saved it."
"And because of this, the whole House of Israel have accustomed themselves to give more "Tzedakah" (Charity), and to do more good deeds, and to engage in "Mitzvot," from Rosh HaShanah through Yom HaKippurim more then, than the rest of the year. And they have all adopted the custom of rising at night during this ten-day period and praying in the synagogues prayers of supplication and entreaties until daylight."
In our time, most communities rise up early in the morning, except on Shabbat and Yom Tov, to say "Selichot," special prayers composed over the generations by religious and literary geniuses, capturing the penitential spirit appropriate for the occasion.
Fasting is a classic response of the Jewish People to danger, as we see in Megilat Esther, where Queen Esther decreed three days of fasting by the Jewish citizens of Shushan when she learned of Haman's genocidal plot against the Jews, before she took the dangerous step of entering the King's Throne-Room without being invited.
Stressing the point of Fasting on Shabbat, which is in general viewed as contrary to the Spirit of the Day, Rav Natronai Gaon said "These days are different from the rest of the year, and hence our ancestors were accustomed to fast during this period, both on Shabbat and on the weekdays."
However, both Geonim and Rishonim objected to the idea of fasting on "Shabbat Shuvah," the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim, and especially to fasting on Rosh HaShanah itself. The principal objection to fasting on Rosh HaShanah is based on an explicit verse in the Book of Nechemiah 8:10, where we find Ezra telling the Jewish People, "Go, eat fat meat and drink sweet wine , for today is holy to our L-rd."
Rav Hai Gaon expresses doubt even about fasting on the weekdays, for these Ten Days were set aside as a time of Prayer and Confession, and of Return to HaShem in one's heart. However, those who wish to and are able to fast on these days, may do so.
The special character of this Shabbat, as opposed to all others, is that it is focused on assembling congregations of the Jewish People not only to commemorate HaShem's Act of Creating the Universe and of His taking the Jewish People out of Egypt, but also to direct their attention to the need to Return to Him. Thus the custom of the Shabbat Shuvah Drashah, an inspirational sermon delivered by the religious leader of the community, usually combining "Halachah" and "Aggadah," but the basic purpose of which is to provide "Hitorerut," inspiration, that will cause the listeners to examine their deeds and return to HaShem.
In the Halachic Literature, we find the following remarks by the "Mateh Moshe," "It is customary (that the Rav) deliver a talk on this Shabbat in order to awaken the People to Repentance; and I have found support for this custom in 'Midrash Mishlei,' where it is written, 'The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said: When the "Chacham," or "Sage," sits and teaches ("doresh"), I cancel and forgive the trespasses of Israel." Hence it is proper to deliver a talk on this Shabbat, in order that He pardon their sins; and you may find another support for this in the Zohar on Parshat Vayikra."
"The 'Mateh Ephraim' writes, 'It is the custom throughout Israel, in all the places of their dispersion, that the Rav of the City deliver a talk on that Shabbat before the assembled multitude, and many books mention the fact that this 'Drashah' should aim at awakening the heart to Teshuvah, with words of admonition and moral teaching in any case, the great and righteous men of each generation have always spoken to the People (on Shabbat Shuvah) with eloquence and profundity and Halachic discourse.' "
As mentioned, the "Shabbat Shuvah Drashah" is an ancient tradition. Moshe Rabbeinu probably delivered one on the Plains of Moav, and most of the righteous leaders of Israel who followed him, probably did the same.
One of the most inspiring "Drashot" ever given to the People of Israel came from the mouth of Hoshea, the Prophet and his close contemporary, the Prophet Yoel. The Haftarah read on this Shabbat opens with a section from Hoshea, beginning with, "Return, O Israel, for you have stumbled in your sin." (Hoshea 14:2) After reading the fourteenth and last Chapter of Hoshea, many communities continue with a portion from the Prophecy of Yoel beginning,
"Blow the Shofar in Zion,
"Gather the People, Sanctify the Congregation,
"And you shall know
Two changes that are made in the Prayers during this ten-day period are
The change to "The Holy King" emphasizes the principle that in Judaism, G-d, King of the Universe, is on the side of the downtrodden; the orphan and the widow. His Holiness is expressed in withdrawal from the abuse of power. As Rabbi Yochanan said, "Wherever you find the infinite might of HaShem mentioned, right there do you find mention of His infinite humility."
On Rosh HaShanah, we are confronted by the Awesome Might of HaShem, the Judge of All the World. It will help us to keep in mind that although in any contest between us and the "Ribbono shel Olam, " the Master of the Universe, we are vastly the underdog, yet, HaShem is on the side of the underdog! As it is written, "VeHaE-lohim yevakesh et haNirdaf," "G-d (and the Name signifying the Attribute of Justice is used) is on the side of the pursued." ("Kohelet"/Ecclesiastes 3:15)
When one looks at the words "HaMelech HaMishpat" and translates them, the result is "The King, The Justice." At first glance, this is not meaningful. But "Kol-Bo" explains it, along the lines of the
RAMBAM, who says that the knowledge of HaShem is not like our knowledge. For, though it resides in our minds, we and our knowledge are, in a sense, "separate." Whereas, with
HaShem, His Knowledge and His Self are One. Similarly is it with HaShem, explains
"Kol-Bo," and His Justice. When we dispense Justice, though the thoughts reside in our minds, we and they are, in a sense, "separate." But again, not so with
HaShem, for Whom, His Justice and His Self are One.
"During the Period of the Geonim other additions to the Shemoneh Esray Prayer were instituted for the Ten Days of Teshuvah. The sentence beginning "Zachrenu" - "Remember us for life " was added to "Avot," the Blessing of the Patriarchs; "Mi Kamocha" - "Who is like You " was added to the Blessing of "Gevurot," which praises the Powers of HaShem; "Uchesov" - "And inscribe for life " was added to "Hodaah," the Blessing of Thanksgiving, and "BeSefer" - "In the Book of Life " was added to the final Blessing of the "Amidah," "Sim Shalom," the Blessing of Peace."
There was much controversy concerning these insertions, mainly because in general, one is not permitted to make requests for the fulfillment of one's personal needs in the first three or the last three of the Blessings, because the theme of these is "Praise of G-d" and "Gratitude to G-d," respectively, where the focus is upon G-d, not upon Man.
However, the Halachic Authorities have agreed that these insertions should be allowed on this occasion, in response to the fact that on these Days, HaShem is considered "B'himatzo," especially near to us, and accepts our petitions for our own needs more freely than usual.
A dispute arose in connection with one of the insertions, namely "Zachrenu LeChayim, " "Remember us for Life." Tur writes in the name of the Maharam MiRutenberg that the word "LeChayim;" specifically, the "e" following the "L" in "Le" is to be written and pronounced with a "shevaw," the sound of the "e" in "the," rather than with a "patach," the sound of the "o" in "hot." Why? Or What's the difference?
Because the "patach" pronunciation may suggest "not life," as it does in another context.
Rav Yaakov Emden, however, in his famous Siddur, writes that according to the principles of grammar, the "patach" sound should be used, because its meaning includes the "definite article," "the,' so that what we are asking for is the life. For one's whole intent this day is on that specific life which really is life; namely, the Life of the World-to-Come. But most prayer books spell the word with a "shevaw," "Lechayim," simply asking for life.
What is the nature of this vigilance? "It is 'zehirut,' vigilance, in one's actions and in one's "chassidus," piety." The "Rishonim," the "Early" or "First Ones," derive from this requirement of extra vigilance the following specific form of spiritual vigilance, that is established as Halachah in the "Shulchan Aruch," "Even a person who normally is not careful to avoid bread baked by non-Jews, should be careful about this during the "Aseret Yemai Teshuvah."
The "Acharonim," the "Later" or "Last," Torah scholars from about the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries through the nineteenth, draw a further logical conclusion. If, in connection with bread baked by non-Jews, which in the opinion of certain "poskim," rabbis who decide specific questions of "Halachah," is entirely permissible, one should exercise special care, then one should certainly exercise special care with regard to other matters, be they in the realm of Laws involving the relationship between Man and G-d and certainly those involving the relationship between Man and Man.
The Zohar states that the "Writing of the Verdict" and the "Sealing of the Verdict" should have taken place on the very same day! But HaShem, in His Mercy, as it were, "lengthened the time," and gave the Jewish People more "time" in which to do "Teshuvah," which He would accept readily, atone for their sins and raise them to the level of holiness of "Yom HaKippurim."
"Rabbi Shmuel, son of Ainaya, said in the name of Rav, 'From where do we know that a decree against a community is not sealed?'
The Academy responded, 'Not sealed? Is it not written "Your sin is sealed before Him?"
He answered, 'Even though it is sealed, the decree can easily be torn up, as it says, "As HaShem our G-d in all our calling to Him!"
'Is it not written, "Seek Him when He is to be found" '
'That is talking about an individual; here we are speaking about a community'
'And when is it possible for an individual to have his decree torn up?'
Rabbah bar Avuha said, 'That refers to the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim.'
'And Biblical support is found for this, from the account in Shmuel 1, where we find the verse, "After ten days had passed, HaShem struck Naval (who had sinned against David) down." '
To what do these 'ten days' refer?
Rabbi Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha, 'These are the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim.' "
(Rosh HaShanah 18a)
Here it says "And you shall make a burnt offering to HaShem." But else where it says, "You shall bring a burnt offering to HaShem! Why the discrepancy?
Rabbi Yitzchak answered, "Why does it say 'And you shall make?' - The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to Israel, 'Repent on these Ten Days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim, and I will honor you on Yom HaKippurim and I will re-make you as a new creation!"
(Pesikta; Parshah 40: "In the Seventh Month")
Rabbi Nehorai said, "Why were ten days of Divine Compassion granted the Jewish People? It was compensation for the Ten Tests that 'Avraham Avinu' "took" and passed, as it were, with "flying colors;" therefore, HaShem gave his descendants the Ten Days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim.
And corresponding to the Ten Commandments that the Jewish People accepted wholeheartedly, did HaShem promise that if the Jewish People would do "Teshuvah" during the Ten Days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim, that He would accept it wholeheartedly!
(Tana Devei Eliyahu Zuta; Chapter 22)
" If a person would know that his judgment was about to come before a King who was only a human being, would he not tremble greatly and seek desperately for means to survive, and would use all of his energy to seek means of escape!"
" It is therefore most appropriate for each person who fears HaShem to minimize his regular activities, and his thoughts should be controlled, and he should allocate time in the day and in the night, to spend time by himself examining his ways, and to get up early and to engage in Repentance and improvement of his ways. And to think deeply, and to pray and offer supplication, and he should realize that the time is right and his prayers will be accepted now, as it says, "At a proper time I shall answer you and on the Day of Salvation I will help you (Yeshayahu 49)."
"Indeed our Rabbis have said, 'Seek HaShem when He is to be found' - this refers to the time between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Hakippurim; and it is a Positive Biblical Command to raise one's spirits to Return in Repentance on Yom HaKippurim "
"Shaarei Teshuvah" 2:14
" a strong indication on these Awesome Days, not to be unemotional; rather, one should perform all the forms of Service specified for the Seventh Month (the Month of 'Tishrei') with extra enthusiasm and great feeling, and with this approach, one can stand up straight and be 'victorious in one's trial.' "
"And every person, according to the level of his enthusiasm is the degree of his 'victory' in his trial, as it says, 'And you, who cleave to HaShem, your G-d, you are all alive today.' "
"Shem MiShmuel," Parshat Nitzavim 675
"CHAZAL remark, with regard to the verse, 'Seek HaShem when He is at hand,' that this refers to the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim."
"It is possible to connect the Midrash just cited to another, said on the verse (uttered by King David in 'Tehilim'/Psalms 27), 'HaShem is my Light and my Salvation, Whom shall I fear?' that 'my Light' refers to Rosh HaShanah and 'my Salvation' refers to Yom Hakippurim."
"And this is the connection: On Rosh HaShanah, illumination comes to the heart from the great theme that HaShem is King of the Universe Through that recognition, one comes 'close' to HaShem, in a sense, and now is able to seek Him while He is at hand."
"And now we can also understand what David means by 'Whom shall I fear?' For with the recognition of HaShem as Absolute King , there is no longer anyone (except HaShem Himself) to fear. On the contrary, from this recognition, there is also born within the individual great 'joy,' as it says , 'The lantern of the righteous shall burn brightly and the lantern of the wicked shall be extinguished.' "
"For through the revelation of the illumination of the Kingdom of HaShem on Rosh HaShanah, that 'point of truth' appears in the souls of Israel; and this is the meaning of 'Your light and your Truth, they will lead me.' Because by the illumination of this point of Truth that appears on Rosh haShanah, HaShem leads the souls of Israel through the "Aseret Yemai Teshuvah,' so that 'He is near to those who call upon Him' until the climax of the Revelation of Salvation on Yom HaKippurim."
Rav Tzaddok HaCohen, in "Pri Tzaddik," on Masechet Rosh HaShanah 27
"The entire purpose of Rosh HaShanah is to raise the human being and to bring him to a state wherein he is elevated above his normal everyday life, to a point where his spirituality is aroused and he is 'above his sins.' And this is the meaning of the words, 'Happy is the one who is raised above his sins.' "
"However, if the process would terminate here, where one's physical acts and thoughts have not been purified, it is clear that the process is incomplete. But a necessary first step has been taken - the individual can now view himself - his acts and thoughts - and realize what has to be done. And that is where the Acts of Confession and Repentance become crucial, because it is by them that the individual is able to 'clean up,' as it were, his earthly act "
"But it is necessary that the Light of the World that came upon the scene on Rosh HaShanah itself participate, laser-like, in the cleanup and improvement. And this is the purpose of Yom Kippur, for on that Day, Man and the World receive the final boost (to mix metaphors) from Hashem, that fixes their sins and grants them atonement "
Free translation of "Shiurei Daat" - Part 2, Page 213
"The entire purpose of Elul is to inspire with enthusiasm and to increase one's pre-occupation with acts that will strengthen one, so that one can move from the state of extreme weakness, in which he began, to the state of strength."
"And we find in the Shulchan Aruch that in the 'Aseret Yemai Teshuvah,' one should adopt practices that are fulfillments of Commandments on a very high and careful level, even those that we have not practiced previously; for example, not to buy bread baked by non-Jews, and the like. And, at first glance, one wonders why, what is the purpose of adopting a practice during these few days that we're not likely to follow in the future?"
"But the point is that CHAZAL by this example have shown us the true method of Repentance, that one must approach it with tremendous spiritual energy such that one will strengthen oneself and do many good deeds and particulars of Commandments, even if that behavior is beyond our present level. For an extreme change in our behavior will prepare us and open us to the possibility of proper 'Teshuvah.' "
"It is a form of 'behavior modification.' After we do the 'we will obey' in many matters, we will be able to achieve the higher level of integration into our personality, the 'we will understand' aspect."
"It is only through such a process of self-strengthening, that it is possible for us to pass through the 'Gates of Repentance' that HaShem, Blessed Be He, opens for us to an infinite extent."
Free Translation of "Michtav Me-Eliyahu," by Rav E. Dessler (Part 2, Pg. 56)