When Aseres Yemei Teshuva arrive and with Yom Kippur fast approaching, many people fall into a depression. They know what is expected of them and they feel that they simply cannot live up to Hashem's expectations. Alternatively, others experience a sense of indifference: "I am on such a low spiritual level" they think to themselves, "that the whole idea of judgment and rectification of sins doesn't even apply to me." The first step in the teshuva process is to uproot both of these perspectives. Everyone is judged and held responsible for their actions, and there is no one who has reached a point where he cannot rectify his situation.
Rav Wolbe (Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon p. 69) cites a pasuk that highlights this idea. "When a man has transgressed a sin that warrants death and he is killed, you shall hang him on a tree. You shall not leave his corpse overnight on the tree . . . because a hanging person is a disgrace of Hashem" (Devarim 21, 22-23). Rashi explains this pasuk with a parable. There were identical twins that each went his own way. One became the king while his brother turned into a bandit who was caught and hanged. Whoever saw the hanged man commented that the king is hanging. Similarly, a person is created in the likeness of his Creator and therefore leaving his body hanging is a disgrace of Hashem. The Torah refers specifically to a man who was stoned and hanged because of a severe transgression as a person in the likeness of the Creator!
This is an idea that can be applied to all transgressors. There is no reason for depression nor should there be a feeling of wanting to give up. Even the person who finds himself on the lowest, bleakest spiritual level must believe that he has as aspect of kedusha which remains intact. In truth, this knowledge is the first step in his teshuva process: to reiterate this idea until it penetrates and resonates deep inside one self.
Chazal tell us that in the place where Ba'alei Teshuva stand, even the perfectly righteous cannot stand. The Ba'al Teshuva must for a moment elevate himself and tap into an extremely high spiritual "place" which is an exercise unnecessary for the perfectly righteous. This "place" is the above mentioned aspect of kedusha which always remains holy and unaffected by his wayward actions. It can be found deep inside a person, behind the many barriers created by his sins. It is referred to as "the place" because it is the true place of person. It is from within this place that a person has the ability to reach high and pure levels of spirituality. The Chovos Ha'Levovos writes, "Like a bird which wanders from its nest, a man wanders from his place." The transgressor has strayed from "his place" - the springboard for spiritual growth - and he must search out that place and return home.
Rabbeinu Yonah (Sha'arei Teshuva Shaar 1, 10), when describing the charata (remorse) imperative for teshuva, writes that one should think as follows: "Behold, the Creator blew into my nostrils a living neshama, containing wisdom of the heart and clarity of the mind, to recognize Him, fear Him and to rule over the body and all its facets, just as He gave him dominion over the rest of the living creatures which do not speak, because a [man's] honor is precious in His eyes." Rav Wolbe notes that it is clear from Rabbeinu Yonah that a person must be cognizant of these ideas before he regrets his sins. Without the knowledge of just how great a person intrinsically is, one will never come to do teshuva.
Aseres Yemei Teshuva and Yom Kippur offer us an awesome opportunity for achieving teshuva and a closeness to Hashem. However, this opportunity will not be utilized unless we realize that our true "place" is with kedusha and not sin. This realization will galvanize us to make the most of these precious days so that we will be able to return to what we now know is really home!