During the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, Jews are encouraged to improve their actions, with both God and people. Every year Jews endeavor to transform themselves, by making the effort to elevate their speech, demonstrate less jealousy, act less materially, pray better and observe the commandments the way they should be observed. But many of us also know that we often cannot sustain the newfound piety much past breaking our fast on Yom Kippur night. What is the goal of our spiritual push during these ten days, when we know the likely outcome? Are we trying to pull a “fast one” on the Almighty?

Attempting to deceive someone, Geneivat Da’at, which literally means stealing someone else’s knowledge, ranks first in a Rabbinic list of the types of robbery (Tosefta Bava Kama 7:8). As a matter of fact, Rabbi Yechiel M. Epstein (1829-1908) suggested that during the Ten Days of Repentance, it is not always appropriate to attempt to act more stringently than one would normally, since it would be hard to justify returning to the less stringent behavior after Yom Kippur (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 603:2).

Rabbi Jonathan Eibshutz (1690-1764) views the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as opportunities for atonement. “There are seven days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, corresponding to the seven days of the week. Each of those seven days atones for the sins committed on those days throughout the year. On the Sunday of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, one attains penitence for all vices that took place on that past year’s Sundays, and so on” (Ye’arot D’vash, 1:10).

Others note that the prophet Isaiah taught (Isaiah 55:6), “Seek out God when He can be found, call to God, when He is near.” Maimonides asserts that “when God can be found” refers to the Ten Days of Repentance (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:6). As such, our behavior during this period need not comport to how we act after Yom Kippur.

Ultimately, of course, the efforts we make during this holy week, ought to be serious. Every Jew should try to make any upgrades made to their piety and spirituality during Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, permanent.

This Treat is reposted in honor of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva.

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