The Orchos Tzadikim in The Gate of Repentance says that six things inspire one to repent. Regarding the fifth of these he says: “The fifth way in which repentance can be aroused is when the Ten Days of Repentance draw near, then every man should arouse his heart and tremble as he goes to meet the Day of Judgment, for he should ponder that all of his deeds are written in a book, and that at this time G-D will bring to judgment every deed and every hidden thing, whether it be good or bad. For a man is judged on Rosh Hashanah, and his decree is sealed on the Day of Atonement (Rosh Hashana 16a). Now, if a man were to be brought for judgment before a king of flesh and blood would he not tremble with a great trembling, and would he not take counsel with his soul? And it would not occur to him to do any other thing, than to find some merit that might save him from that judgment. Therefore, how foolish and stupid are those who do not know what their judgment will be, and yet they occupy themselves with idle things other than the repentance that would find favor before the Great Judge!”
Why is this time of the year any different than any other time of the year when it comes to repentance? Doesn’t Hashem allow and wants us to repent from wrongdoings whenever they happen? The Gemara in Yevamos 105a quotes this gemara in Rosh Hashana 16a and elaborates: “With regard to a decree of judgment that cannot be torn up, Rav Shmuel bar Unya said that Rav said: From where is it derived that a sentence of judgment upon a community is never sealed? The Gemara expresses surprise: Is it truly not sealed? But isn’t it written: “For although you wash yourself with niter, and take much soap for yourself, yet your iniquity is marked before Me” (Jeremiah 2:22), indicating that there is no longer any atonement for iniquity of a community. Rather, one must say as follows: From where is it derived that even when a community’s sentence is sealed, it may be torn up as a result of repentance, as it is stated: ‘For what great nation is there, that has God so close unto them, as Hashem our G-D is whenever we call upon Him?’ (Deuteronomy 4:7). The Gemara objects: But isn’t it written in another verse: ‘Seek Hashem while He may be found, call upon Him when He is near” (Isaiah 55:6), implying that God is not always near and may not always answer whenever we call upon Him? The Gemara answers: This contradiction is not difficult. This verse is concerning an individual who must seek God where He is found, as He is not always equally accessible to answer those who call out to Him. That first verse is concerning a community, for whom He is accessible “whenever we call upon Him.’ The Gemara asks: For an individual, when is the time that God is close to him? Rav Naḥman said that Rabba bar Avuh said: These are the ten days that are between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.”
The Etz Yosef quoting Rav Yonasan Eibshitz, explains the last part of this gemara. “These ten days between and including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are specifically made (mesugalim) for repentance. And in these days Hashem arouses us in repentance without any arousal at all from down here [in this world]. This is what the pasuk quoted means, ‘Seek out Hashem from where He is,’ He makes Himself known to us before we call out to Him, and on the contrary, He is around beforehand to give inspiration to his son to repent. And if a person gives his heart, feels in his heart constantly during these ten days, inspiration to repent and fear Hashem, even if he is lax in other matters, nevertheless his heart will be pumping to repent. And this is because Hashem arouses us to repent during these days without any preparation from down here in this world (Ye’aros Devash, drush 1).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What the Etz Yosef is telling us is that the Ten Days of Repentance are days which do not need any cataclysmic events to inspire us to repent, but rather there is a natural drive to repent at this time of the year, which Hashem put into the nature of the world. But what does this mean? And if it is so natural, then why doesn’t it automatically happen? Doesn’t the Etz Yosef say that only if we put our heart (and mind and soul) towards repenting will it take effect? That is true any time of the year!
We must say that a person can potentially inspire himself to do Teshuva, to repent after he has sinned, without any suffering of any sorts happening to him, even at any time of the year, as Chaz”al says is the ideal way to repent. However, the inspiration isn’t necessarily there at other times of the year, and Hashem brings suffering to people who need that extra inspiration and impetus to motivate them to repent, if they cannot do it on their own. But Hashem created the Human Being with a “genetic trait” that at this time of the year triggers, creating inspiration to repent during these Ten Days of Repentance. Yet, like with all other things in life, Hashem gives us free choice to choose not to focus and take advantage of that genetic impulse inside each of us that is triggered at this time of the year. But if one does tap into this inspiration, it is overwhelmingly positive, possibly even better, if not the same as Hashem giving yesurim, suffering to arouse a person to repent.
A gutten shabbos and yor, ksiva vichasima tova and a happy and healthy New Year,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder