Seek Hashem when He can be found. Call upon Him when He is near.
According to Chazal the days when HaShem is most accessible are the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. It is during this special period that the doors of teshuva are wide open, when one small step or movement on our part can illicit an outpouring of Heavenly assistance.
HaShem is there waiting for us to call out to Him… HaShem is there waiting for us to return to Him, to our potential, to Torah, to emes…
But, of course, we have to believe that He is really listening… and we have to believe that change is truly possible…
HaShem implores the Jewish people:
Return to Me and I’ll return to you…
שׁ֚וּבוּ אֵלַי֙ וְאָשׁ֣וּבָה אֲלֵיכֶ֔ם
And how do we respond?
…[B]ut you said, “With what shall we return?”
וַֽאֲמַרְתֶּ֖ם בַּמֶּ֥ה נָשֽׁוּב
This is similar to the response of Avraham Avinu just before Bris Bein HaBesarim, the Covenant Between the Parts:
And He said to him, “I am the Lord,
Who brought you forth from Ur of the Chaldees,
to give you this land to inherit it.”
And he [Avraham] said, “O Lord God,
with what will I know that I will inherit it?”
וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלָ֑יו אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר הֽוֹצֵאתִ֨יךָ֙ מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֔ים
לָ֧תֶת לְךָ֛ אֶת־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַזֹּ֖את לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ
וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֲדֹנָ֣י יֱהֹוִ֔ה בַּמָּ֥ה אֵדַ֖ע כִּ֥י אִֽירָשֶֽׁנָּה
Chazal tell us that within Avraham’s response to HaShem’s promise that he and his descendants will inherit the Land of Israel, we find a slight lack of emunah. This lack of emunah exists in spite of the fact that, as the Torah testifies one possuk earlier, Avraham believed HaShem would give him a son in his old age to inherit him:
And he believed in the Lord,
and He accounted it to him as righteousness.
And he believed in the Lord: He did not request of Him a sign regarding this, but regarding the inheritance of the land, he did request of Him a sign, and he said to Him, “How will I know?”
Chazal tell us that on account of this slight lack of emunah that Avraham Avinu harbored in his heart, the Jewish people had to endure exile in Egypt.
“Why was Avraham punished, his descendants becoming slaves in Egypt for 210 years? … Shmuel suggested that it was because he questioned the Almighty when he asked – ‘how will I know that I shall inherit it?’”
Long after the Egyptian exile, we are still trying to rectify the quality of emunah today.
“With what shall we return?”
With what strength… with what clarity… with what conviction that we will actually succeed… with what guarantee that Hashem will accept our teshuva?
And how do we go about improving our level of emunah? HaShem’s response to Avraham began with the command to bring korbonos. The word korban (קורבן) is related to the word karov (קרוב), which means “closeness.” In its essence, a korban is a vehicle through which a person can come close to HaShem.
So is tefilla…
Both tefilla and korbonos share this same purpose- to bring the person closer to Hashem. With a korbon, a person brings an animal and elevates it by placing it upon the mizbeach… with tefilla, a person elevates his or her nefesh habehamis (נפש הבהמית), the animal soul, closer to Hashem.1
In fact, at a time when the Beis HaMikdash is not standing, tefilla can take the place of korbonos:
Take words with yourselves and return to the Lord.
Say, “You shall forgive all iniquity and teach us [the] good [way],
and let us render [for] bulls [the offering of] our lips.
קְח֚וּ עִמָּכֶם֙ דְּבָרִ֔ים וְשׁ֖וּבוּ אֶל־יְהֹוָ֑ה אִמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו כָּל־תִּשָּׂ֚א עָוֹן֙
וְקַח־ט֔וֹב וּנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ
Through sincere tefilla, our emunah is strengthened. When our emunah is strengthened, we are encouraged and inspired to teshuva…
The Ten Days of Repentance is thus a time of tefilla, a time of emunah, and ultimately a tremendous ais ratzon for teshuva.
1 According to sefer Tanya, the nefesh behamis is the source of animalistic desires as well as qualities such as kindness and compassion. Although its desire is to seek out worldly, physical pleasures, it can be trained to desire spiritual pleasures instead through the guidance of the divine soul.