The focus of the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is teshuvah — return or repentance. We recite the Avinu Malkeinu prayer during this period, requesting:
“Our Father our King! Return us in complete teshuvah before You.”
When is teshuvah full and complete?
We can understand this phrase better in light of the request that immediately follows:
“Our Father our King! Send complete healing to the sick of Your people.”
What is “complete healing”? Often we are only able to alleviate the patient’s external symptoms. The true source of the illness, however, remains unknown or is untreatable. Such a treatment is only a partial healing. When we plead for complete healing, we are praying that we may succeed in discovering the source of the illness and completely cure the patient. Such a comprehensive treatment will result in full restoration of the patient’s health.
The same concept holds true for teshuvah. If we address a particular fault, we are really dealing with a symptom of a much larger problem. Correcting a specific sin is only partial teshuvah. When we ask for God’s help in attaining complete teshuvah, we seek a comprehensive teshuvah that corrects the root source of our various sins and character flaws. Such a complete teshuvah will restore our spiritual wholeness.
How does one attain complete teshuvah? In his book Orot HaTeshuvah, Rav Kook explained that this teshuvah is based on an elevated outlook on life and the world:
“The higher level of teshuvah is based on holy enlightenment and a penetrating perception of the beauty of Divine providence. This [elevated teshuvah] is the source and foundation for the lower teshuvah that corrects deeds and refines traits. The basis for elevated teshuvah is none other than the foundation of Torah, in all of its roots and branches.” (15:6)
“Teshuvah that is truly complete requires a lofty perception, an ascent to the rarified world that is replete with truth and holiness. This is only possible by delving into the depths of Torah and Divine wisdom, to the mystical secrets of the universe.... Only the higher [i.e., mystical] Torah can break down the iron barriers that divide the individual and society as a whole from their heavenly Father.” (10:1)
(Silver from the Land of Israel, pp. 72-73. Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe’iyah, p. 66)
Illustration image: Day of Atonement, by Isidor Kaufmann (before 1907)