Yom Kippur: The Best Signature
Here's great news for Yom Kippur: even if you committed the worst imaginable transgression, you can be considered a tzaddik just by desiring to be a righteous individual...
by Rabbi Shalom Arush
The Gemara teaches that three books are opened on Rosh Hashana (see tractate Rosh Hashana, 16): The book of tzaddikim, the book of the average, and the book of the wicked. The tzaddikim are inscribed immediately in the Book of Life...
Few people are completely wicked or completely righteous. That leaves most of us in the category of the average, whose final verdict depends on what they do during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when they get the final signature, or gmar chatima. That is why, during this time of the year, we wish one another gmar chatima tova, or, "May you merit a good final signature" on Yom Kippur.
Still, how can a person change overnight? If he or she were average up until now, how can they suddenly be truly righteous to merit the best "signature" – the best verdict – on Yom Kippur?
We learn from the above-cited Gemara passage that Hashem inscribes every person according to his current spiritual standing. That's good news, for anyone can be written in the book of tzaddikim. A person is faced with tests and options not only daily and hourly, but minute by minute. Whatever he does depends on his desire. With desire alone, he can be considered a tzaddik. All he has to do is contemplate: "I don't want to be a sinner; I don't want to be a slave to habits and bodily urges. I want to do what Hashem wants me to do and to truly return to Him." As soon as a person merely contemplates teshuva, Hashem considers him a perfect tzaddik! The source of this concept is the Gemara in tractate Kiddushin, and it's anchored in Jewish Law.
Hashem knows that for a person's initial contemplations of teshuva to be translated into actual deeds, he'll need years of hard work and refinement. Yet, it's the initial desire that fuels subsequent action. Hashem doesn't expect a person to be righteous overnight; but, as long as a person maintains his desire, which is manifest in extensive prayer, Hashem will lead him on the path of righteousness and he'll succeed.
The above concept is a source of encouragement for everyone. No matter what you did in the past, even if you committed the worst imaginable transgression, you can be considered a tzaddik just by desiring to be a righteous individual. And if you're steadfast in your desire, doing your best to do teshuva from love, your transgressions from the past will be converted into mitzvoth! Indeed, if you devote 30 minutes of your daily 60 minute-per-day personal prayer session to asking Hashem to protect you from sin, you'll certainly be considered a tzaddik. Don't let anything or anyone weaken your resolve.
The Evil Inclination's entire objective is to extinguish your desire and to destroy your belief in yourself and in your power of prayer. As long as you remain strong and continue with your daily personal prayers while yearning for Hashem and desiring to do His will, you will not only merit to rectify everything and becoming a tzaddik, you will already be considered a tzaddik. Whatever you do, don't relinquish your desire.
A person who suffers a setback has a difficult test; he must believe in himself and know that he truly desires to do Hashem's will. So why did he sin? The answer is that he lacked sufficient prayers. Rebbe Nachman said that the evil inclination doesn't want the sin itself, but the depression and despair that follows the sin. A depressed person loses desire; this is the evil inclination's gain by tripping the person. But, if despite the setback, a person strengthens himself with renewed desire, then the evil inclination loses, for renewed desire is the core of teshuva. Again, when a person makes teshuva out of love, his spiritual debits are turned into credits. By clinging to desire, a fall is therefore not a fall. Don't forget this ever, and may you be signed and sealed on Yom Kippur for the very best year of your life, amen!
Rabbi Shalom Arush is an Israeli Breslov rabbi and founder of the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions. He spreads the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov among Sephardic and Ashkenazic baalei teshuva around the world through his books and speaking appearances. Rabbi Arush is considered one of today's leading Hasidic spiritual guides, inspiring hundreds of thousands through his books, audio CDs and online presence.