The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the Aseret Yi-May Teshuvah – Ten Days of Repentance, and the Shabbat that falls during those days is called Shabbat Shuva (Return). According to our tradition God is especially receptive to our prayers and pleas during these days.
Rabbi Pinchas Teitz Z”L, a great Rabbi and Scholar who was the founder and dean of the Yeshiva in Elizabeth, NJ that I attended for elementary and high school, used to address the student body of the Yeshiva every year during these Days of Repentance. Every year he repeated the same parable that touched my heart in its simplicity and depth and has stayed with me since.
Imagine taking a final exam that will decide your entire academic career. You’ve studied for the test but as you take it you become so nervous that you start forgetting all the material. You struggle through the exam and, with a heavy heart, you hand in your exam booklet with the almost certain knowledge that you got many of the answers wrong. You feel like a failure. Suddenly your entire class is called back into the exam room. The teacher makes an incredible announcement. Every student can take back his or her exam and change any answers that they think are wrong before returning it for grading. Can you even imagine that?! A second chance! A dream come true.
This is the essence of the Days of Repentance. Our judgment has been inscribed on Rosh Hashanah. We leave court dejected and afraid. Surely, judging by our actions of the past year, we have not merited a favorable verdict. All is lost. But then God calls us back and gives us our personal verdict book with the amazing opportunity to change its contents. We have the incredible opportunity, during these ten days, to rewrite our verdict before it is sealed on Yom Kippur. What a wondrous gift.
Let us all take this special gift and use these days to make changes in ourselves and our relationships with others. If we make a sincere effort right now we can be sure that the verdict that is sealed on Yom Kippur will be the right one for us.
** This essay can be found in Deep Waters: Insights into the Five Books of Moses and the Jewish Festivals