Yom Kippur is intensely personal, a day of introspection and repentance on an individual level too.
The key to both atonement and repentance is confession, the Torah’s simple requirement that the sinner (individual or the people) confess the sin publicly, "Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins (Leviticus 16:21)," reminding us to confess for the ways we, as a people, have failed to live up to the highest standards of Torah, failed to answer God’s call to be a light to the nations, failed to become our truest selves. At the same time as the Priest confesses our collective wrongdoing, we also confess our individual shortcomings and betrayals. When a person commits any wrong toward another person, thus breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes their guilt, they shall confess the wrong that they have done (Names 5:5 – 7)." The communal ritual traces an inner awareness – as we contemplate the gap between our potential and our deeds, between what we could have been and how we actually acted, we muster the courage to repent.
According to Rav Saadia Gaon, great philosopher and Talmudic sage of Medieval Baghdad, “Repentance entails 1) the renunciation of sin, 2) remorse, 3) the quest of forgiveness, and 4) the assumption of the obligation not to relapse into sin.” The day stands, therefore, on the edifice of honest self-scrutiny, on the optimism that human beings can grow toward the light, that we can discipline our errant behavior to express our highest ideals. Yom Kippur is a day in which the sanctuary of our heart, as well as the institutions we have established as a people, are held to a very high standard (God’s) and judged by that standard, not for the sake of smug self-congratulations, but because the work is great, and the Master is waiting to forgive.