Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. We may wonder if we need to do teshuva to properly atone for our sins, or so we only need the day itself. Our Sages tell us we need both teshuva and the Day of Atonement, the other opinion says we only need the day itself because it affects our atonement spiritually.

Our Kabbalistic Sages tell us that Yom Kippur represents Binah, which is connected to a higher world, the World To Come.  So, we go into the higher world where there is no physical eating or drinking on Yom Kippur. Instead, our voices and our prayers serve as food.

In the higher world, the World of Truth we call Binah, we are so lined-up with the truth of who we are that our sins of the previous year are seen differently, by G-d and by us. We know we don’t want to sin, but we were stuck in the lower worlds, within the grasp of the Evil Inclination. But that behavior is not who we are.

One of the secrets of Yom Kippur is its power to atone. In addition, our Sages tell us that Yom Kippur is a time to go into Bittul, or self-nullification, a place where we want nothing but G-d. We think, “All I want is G-d, there is nothing for me but G-d.” When we do that, we also atone. G-d looks upon us and thinks, “All you want is Me? All I want is you, too.”  It’s an exchange of love in that way.

Yom Kippur is also a day when our prayers are designed to help us ascend into new worlds, one world higher than the one before, until we reach the pinnacle, the crescendo at the end of the day, the Neilah service. It’s the closing of our judgment between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the period when we usually pray the hardest.

Back in the days of the Temple, Yom Kippur was essentially a “one-man show,” because the High Priest took over all the duties for the whole nation, although everybody was present and doing teshuva. The High Priest, however, offered the sacrifices and performed all the intense activities of the service, for the sake of all the people.

Everybody would fast, of course, but the High Priest placed the sins of all the people on the Azazel-bound scapegoat, and sent it off as a bribe or as “hush money,” so to speak, to placate the other side, and to keep it closed. It’s a big subject for another time…

Yom Kippur is the end of a 10-day period of teshuva, during which we are closest to G-d. It’s a great time to do teshuva, because our prayer books teach us to do teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka in order to banish the evil decrees. Negative decrees can be eliminated, but positive decrees are never rescinded. A chain of events may be put into motion, and it may be changed by getting out of our habitual actions in life and making changes.

We might change a particular habit, change our name, change our giving, change our judgments, change (or choose) our character traits, change our abundance and our G-d-connectedness. These things can be affected by our deep prayer, from our essence, and these things can change negative decrees. It’s much easier to change a decree before it occurs than after it happens.

It’s at the end of the Neilah service, the conclusion of Yom Kippur, when the decree is finalized for us. There are other chances, later in the holidays following Yom Kippur and even through Chanukah, but the main decree comes on Yom Kippur. That’s what we’re all working toward.

Our teshuva has to be testified by G-d, who knows the truth of our hearts. When we say we will be good, G-d knows the true testimony, the heart, the future. G-d knows what’s for real, or not. So, we need to be as real as possible in the process as well.

The day of Yom Kippur, the evening and the following day of fasting, consists of different confessions expressing sorrow for what we have done… “this is what I did, and I won’t do it again.” This, of course, is the verbal part of confession. The other component is the emotional part, genuinely feeling sorry and remorseful, and determining not to do it again.

It’s a good idea to begin the day with a sheet of paper listing what we’ve done, the things for which we want to repent. This is the time of year we diligently practice the three Ts – teshuva, tzedakah and tefilla, which is repentance, charity and prayer. Those are the three things that can banish a bad decree against us.

That’s a short description of the service of Yom Kippur. Hopefully, we come out of this day as a new person, refreshed and renewed, compared to the person we were before Yom Kippur. Each of us is hoping for a whole, new, purified version of ourselves.