“A Propitious Time for Repentance”
(updated and revised from Haazinu 5762-2001)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z Buchwald

On Sunday night, September 24th, the tenth of Tishrei, Jews, the world over, will gather in synagogues to begin the observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Jewish tradition subscribes to the belief in “propitious times.” For instance, the month of Adar is considered to be a propitious time for merriment. The month of Av is a propitious time for sadness. The time when the candles are lit for Shabbat is a propitious time to pray for the welfare of one’s family. The time immediately before a marriage ceremony is considered to be a propitious time for the bride and groom to pray for their own well-being and for the well-being of others. The month of Tishrei is regarded as a propitious time for Teshuva, for repentance. As the prophet, Isaiah says in Isaiah 55:6, דִּרְשׁוּ השׁם בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ, קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב, Seek G-d when He is to be found. Call unto Him when He is nigh. G-d is never “closer” to His creations than during the month of Tishrei.

For the Jewish people, the time of repentance is a joyous time. We do not dress in black, as is the custom of others, or express undue fear, because we know that G-d desperately wants us to repent and is always prepared to welcome the penitent back. The prophet Ezekiel 33:11, declares, אֱמֹר אֲלֵיהֶם, חַי אָנִי נְאֻם השׁם אֶ־לוֹקִים, אִם אֶחְפֹּץ בְּמוֹת הָרָשָׁע, כִּי אִם בְּשׁוּב רָשָׁע מִדַּרְכּוֹ, וְחָיָה? G-d does not desire for anyone to die. Rather that the wicked return from their evil ways and survive. It’s as if the Al-mighty has set up a no-lose situation for His people to do Teshuva.

The rabbis take this concept even further with their remarkable statement found in the Talmudic tractates Berachot 34b and Sanhedrin 99a: מָקוֹם שֶׁבַּעֲלֵי תְשׁוּבָה עוֹמְדִין, צַדִּיקִים גְּמוּרִים אֵינָם עוֹמְדִין, In the place where penitents stand, even the most righteous cannot stand. The Chassidim explain this statement by portraying every human being as being connected to the Al-mighty by a would-be umbilical cord, a tether. When the person sins grievously, the connection is severed. When the person repents, the cord is tied together again. But, because of the knot, the cord is shorter, and the Ba’al Teshuva is now closer to G-d than even the person who has not sinned. Could it be that G-d is advising His people that the sinner has an advantage over the righteous, because repentance brings a sinner closer to Him? That’s how desperately G-d desires repentance.

During the High Holidays we often refer to G-d as Aveinu Malkenu–our Father, our King. A king is remote, omnipotent and very majestic, while a father, a parent, is close, and very embracing. That is why we refer to G-d first as the father, and only then as king. To better explain this concept, I’d like to share with you a most meaningful song, The Arrogant Prince, composed by Chaim Salenger, that appears on the album, The Wayward Ram. The song is based on a story taken from Rabbi Isaac Blazer’s classic book “Kochav Ohr,” referring to the phrase “Our Father, our King” that is found in the Avinu Malkenu prayer. The lyrics are as follows:

There once was King
And the King had a son
And the son was a clever but arrogant prince
And the prince would often act in open disdain
And with bold disregard to his father the King
And the King wanted hard to ignore it
But in vain was the burden he bore
So they banished the prince from the palace
Though still what he wore
Were his royal robes.

Well, the prince went in search
Of somewhere to begin
And he came to a town
But he felt out of place
For the men were all miners
And he a noble man
With his long royal robes and his soft royal face.
And they made him an honorary miner
Digging down in some forsaken hole,
But the robes that were once much finer
Turned black as the coal
And badly tattered.

So then, thought the prince,
“I am far too elite.
I must dress and behave
Like the common folk do.”
So, he let grow his hair
And he drank and he cursed
And he became like the others, though possibly worse.

But the King had a change of heart one day,
And he longed for his wandering son.
So somehow, they finally found him,
But strangely enough,
He’d forgotten who he was.


Well, there stood the prince
In his black tattered robes,
Waiting out in the cold saying,
“Please let me in.”
And the guard took one look
At this strange, ragged man
And said, “I know the prince.
And buddy, you are not him.”

But the King heard the noise in the palace,
And the pleading and the cries of someone.
And he called to the guard, “Let him in,
Let him in, let him in,
That’s the voice of my son.”

Avinu Malkenu,
Our Father our King
Please hear our voice,
Please let us in.
And though we are ragged
And though we are wrong all along
We know it’s true
Avinu Malkenu.

Avinu Malkenu,
Our Father our King
Please hear our voice
Please let us in.
And though we are strangers,
Deep in our voice is the cry
Of your wandering son.
Avinu Malkenu,
Our Father Our King.

The Kotzker Rebbe was once asked, where do you find G-d? He answered in Yiddish, “Vu m’lust ehm ah’rein,” Where you let him in!

I pray that during this High Holiday season, all of G-d’s children will open their hearts to let G-d in, so that we may all soon be the beneficiaries of the ultimate redemption, when peace will prevail throughout the world.

G’mar Tov.

May you be blessed.

This year, Yom Kippur will be observed from late afternoon on Sunday, September 24th, through nightfall on Monday, September 25th.