Yom Kippur

AN EXERCISE IN TRANSLATION
 
Incorrect Translations
One of the central prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the U’nisaneh Tokef prayer, in which we describe how all the inhabitants of the earth pass before G‑d, who judges us and decides our fate for the forthcoming year; “who will live, etc.” At the end of this moving and daunting prayer we exclaim: “But Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah avert the severity of the decree.”
The Rebbe pointed out that the standard translations for these three as “repentance, prayer and charity” are inaccurate or imprecise. Repentance implies turning a new leaf but Teshuvah is really a return to the old good, inner self. Prayer denotes petitioning G‑d while Tefilah actually means attachment or bonding with G‑d. Charity implies an act of kindness; Tzedakah, by contrast, suggests that the money we “donate” to the poor and needy actually has been entrusted to us by G‑d for that very purpose.
In truth, Teshuvah often involves turning a new leaf. Prayer often includes asking G‑d for all of our needs.  An integral part of Tzedakah has always been the degree of kindness one exhibits when giving.
Why then does the Rebbe negate these traditional translations? While they might not capture the deepest aspects of Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah, how can it be suggested that they are incorrect?
We should consider another question.
Ethics of the Fathers declares: “The world stands on three things: Torah (study), Avodah (service, referring to sacrifices and/or prayer) and acts of kindness.” These three tenets represent the entire spectrum of Judaism.  On Yom Kippur we hope to correct our deficiencies in these areas.  It stands to reason then that we would specifically refer to them. While “acts of kindness” may well be represented by the word Tzedakah, Torah study is not on the list of things we must do to reverse the negative impact of our failures in that regard.  Why is Torah study, the very first item on the Fathers’ list of things on which the world stands, omitted? 
One may suggest the following answer:
Two Dimensions of Teshuvah
There are two ways of removing the effects of our sins. One is simply to engage in the classic actions associated with Teshuvah: Expressing remorse, confessing, asking for forgiveness and resolving never to commit the sin again. We are confident that G‑d, in His infinite mercy, will see that we are sincere and pardon us.
There is a far more powerful and deeper way of obtaining the forgiveness we seek. Our sins arise from a lack of appreciation for our relationship that we have with G‑d. Teshuvah, in its ideal form is intended to restore that relationship and our appreciation for it. Once that relationship is fortified the sins disappear. Our connection with and bond to G‑d becomes so tight that it renders us inseparable from Him. We become a single entity.  Just as G‑d, by definition, has neither sins nor deficiencies (the word for sin in Hebrew, chet, actually means deficiency), so too are we without sin.
We can now understand why Yom Kippur’s familiar trio, Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah, doesn’t explicitly mention Torah study. We can see that Torah study is implied by and contained within the concept of Teshuvah.
If Teshuvah were limited to expressing remorse, plus the other basic requirements needed to remove the stain of sin, it would not cause a fundamental change in who we are. Torah study is different; it is the highest form of Teshuvah because it connects our minds and thought patterns with G‑d’s “mind” and “thought patterns.” Torah study creates the most intimate relationship we can have with G‑d, relative to which all the negatives disappear.
To be sure, one cannot expect to develop this relationship with Torah study in isolation from observance of the other commandments. For example, one cannot connect with G‑d by studying the Torah, which commands us not to steal, while at the same time having no personal compunction against thievery.  That inconsistency sullies the Torah study and is an impediment to creating one’s desired intimacy with G‑d.  Even so, every thief should study Torah, because it is a Mitzvah and, in addition, the thief’s Torah study can sensitize him to cease his criminal behavior.
That is why the Rebbe stresses that Teshuvah, in the context of Yom Kippur, stands not for repentance but return. On Yom Kippur we are expected to achieve the deeper dimension of Teshuvah, restoring the original love affair G‑d has with us, as expressed through the loving study of Torah. While remorse is necessary for the lower level of Teshuvah, on Yom Kippur we are empowered to reach for the higher level.
The Other Side of the Coin: Tefilah
Torah study, however, is only one side of this relationship. Prayer is the other side. Torah study is G‑d’s initiative of love for us, expressing His desire to share His most intimate secrets with us. Historically, Yom Kippur is the anniversary of G‑d giving us, through Moses, the second set of Tablets. This is why the Talmud associates the Biblical phrase “the day of His wedding” with Yom Kippur. Every year that joyous experience is refreshed and reintroduced into the world. The Teshuvah of Yom Kippur is inextricably bound to the giving of the Torah.
Tefilah, by contrast, is our initiative to improve the intimate relationship we have with G‑d.  Tefilah raises our consciousness to the point where we feel a oneness with G‑d that makes our relationship mutual and complete.  G‑d unites with us through Torah study, and we with Him through Tefilah.
Thus, the Rebbe stresses that the proper translation of Tefilah here is not prayer, which denotes petition and supplication, but rather bonding. On Yom Kippur, our wedding day, we do not seek to petition G‑d but rather to unite with Him.
We are All One because We are One with G‑d
Tzedakah, likewise, can be understood on two levels. When our relationship with G‑d is that between two separate entities, it also affects our understanding of and attitude towards Tzedakah. We see Tzedakah as a charitable and compassionate act of reaching out to an outsider, the Other who is distinct and separate from ourselves.
We can only relate to an Other as though he or she is at one with us if we have that same close connection to G‑d, our common Source. If, however, we have a detached connection to G‑d we cannot have a more complete connection to other individuals who are separate and distinct from us. To give Tzedakah to a stranger then becomes an act of kindness and compassion; a charitable act rather than an acknowledgement of Oneness. While this is surely a positive and noble act it is not the dimension of Tzedakah that we seek on Yom Kippur.
When, however, we have an intimate relationship with G‑d, we become able to view the Other as being at one with ourselves. We do not view the act of feeding a spouse or child as a charitable act. By the same token, we no longer view Tzedakah as a simple act of kindness.  Instead, it becomes the right thing to do.
The Rebbe negates the translation of Tzedakah as charity on Yom Kippur because we aspire to experience the higher level of Tzedakah that is unity with G‑d and our fellows.
The Ultimate Wedding Day
Yom Kippur is our “wedding day” when we can tap into the unifying energy unleashed some 3,300 years ago when Moses descended Sinai with the second set of Tablets, marking G‑d’s desire to be married to us. Even so, we have yet to experience the ultimate state of unity and marriage with G‑d. This period of Galus/exile has been punctuated with setbacks in our relationship. When we mend the rifts on Yom Kippur, we still fall short of the mark.
It is only during the Messianic Age that our marriage to G‑d will be fully consummated. At that point, there will be no possibility that our relationship with G‑d will suffer from regression. Instead of a bumpy off and on marriage, life will be a continual journey into deeper and deeper states of oneness with G‑d; we will be on a perpetual honeymoon that will only intensify with the passage of time.
This state of being is what we mean when we declare “Next year in Jerusalem!” at the end of Yom Kippur.  First and foremost, it expresses our heartfelt desire that we should immediately cross into the final Redemption, guided by Moshiach, so that when next year rolls around we will have been redeemed from our exile.
In addition, this declaration conveys our heartfelt desire to see our marriage with G‑d solidify and permanently encompass the entire world.  We yearn for that world in which we will learn the innermost, most intimate dimension of Torah, which Rashi, in his commentary on the Biblical book Shir Hashirim, compares to an intimate Divine kiss.  In that age Teshuvah will be realized in its highest form. Likewise, our connection through Tefilah will be elevated to a higher plane and our acts of Tzedakah will be of a completely different order. Rather than needing to help the poor and destitute— states of being that are a consequence of exile—we will enjoy unprecedented unity with all.
Yom Kippur is the day when we try to get a sample of the unity which will become manifest in the future.
A G’mar Chasimah Tova.
May we all be sealed for a good and sweet year; a year of true Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah; a year of true and complete Redemption!