Yom Kippur: Repentance and Atonement


Dear Rabbi, what do we mean when we say that Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement? Thanks for this wonderful service you provide.

11 months


  1. The “mitzvah of the day” of Yom Kippur is teshuva, repentance. There is no question that at any time when a person has done something wrong, he or she must correct this behavior and change for the better. In that sense, the commandment of teshuva applies year round. On Yom Kippur, however, there is a special obligation to take advantage of the unique spiritual quality of the day to “do teshuva.” Jewish tradition tells us that God is particularly close to us during this time and awaits our smallest step toward Him. As Maimonides explains:

    “Even though repentance and crying out (in prayer) are always beautiful …. during the ten days for Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur they are especially beautiful and are accepted immediately… The day of Yom Kippur is the time of repentance for all, individuals and communities, and it is the final time for forgiveness and pardon for the Jewish people. Therefore, everyone is obligated to repent and confess on Yom Kippur.”

    Teshuva, literally translated, means, “return.” We believe that the soul is intrinsically pure and began its sojourn in this world in a state of purity. Sins and transgressions are departures from the essential nature of the human soul. Therefore, when a person has done something wrong, the process of teshuva is really that of going back to his or her true essence.

    Jewish law describes three essential components of teshuva pertaining to the three dimensions of the past, present and future. First, the sinner must recognize that he has done something wrong and regret having done it, i.e. feeling remorse for the past. In the present, he must confess his sin to God and pray for forgiveness. The final element is commitment to the future, never to repeat this transgression. If a person sincerely regrets, confesses and resolves to do better, not only is he completely forgiven, his former sins may now be considered merits because, ultimately, they were stepping stones to further growth.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team