Experiences of T’shuvah

Elul 26/September 1, 2013—  “The world is mistaken when it thinks that t’shuvah [repentance] is only for sins. True t’shuvah is from the expression ‘and the spirit shall return [yashuv] to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7).’ T’shuvah is a thirsty soul’s longing to connect to its Source. With this in mind, t’shuvah becomes an exciting and joyous experience, rather than one just of bitterness and remorse, because there is nothing more gratifying than returning to your true self.”

(Likutei Torah, Ha’azinu)

For reflection: This is not about pointing a finger at those who may have hurt you, or beating yourself up about all that you have done wrong. At its source, repentance is about returning to the best that is in you, that is in each of us. What can you do today to be in touch with your ‘best self’?

The T’shuvah of Shabbat

Elul 25/August 31, 2013 [Shabbat] – Shabbat t’shuvah is born of inner development, guided by deliberation and design. We immerse ourselves in it when the busyness of the everyday is set aside; with a mind rendered tranquil through the restfulness and repose of holiness. Shabbat t’shuvah endures and results in a lasting closeness to God.

(Reb Nachman, Likutey Moharan I, 79)

For reflection: As the Yamim Noraim (the Days of Awe) draw near, this last Shabbat before, we yearn for that closeness, for open arms to take us in as we have spent this month in reflection and prayer, in the process of cheshbon nefesh, taking an accounting of our soul. Try to open your heart even a little more to the peacefulness of Shabbat, for this moment of t’shuvah to open into tonight’s Selichot prayers, beginning our communal turning and returning.

The Work of T’shuvah is Also Communal

Elul 24/August 30, 2013— Rabbi Berechiah said, “On Rosh haShanah, it is God’s wish that the hearts of all humanity are turned toward God in unison.”

(Talmud, Rosh haShanah 1, 3)

For reflection: By viewing t’shuvah as strictly individualistic in nature, we run the risk of crossing into the realm of self-absorption and narcissism. This season is not only an opportunity for personal growth, but as a time for communal cheshbon hanefesh (an accounting of our soul), when we ask ourselves if we as a community of brothers and sisters have lived up to our responsibilities to one another. In this past year, how have you foster diversity and acceptance, respect, tolerance and caring for our fellow human beings? Consider one new aspect or project you will actively embrace in the new year.

The Intention of T’shuvah

Elul 23/August 29, 2013—  “He who sets his heart on becoming purified (from ritual defilement) becomes pure as soon as he has immersed himself (in the waters of a mikveh), though nothing new has befallen his body. So, too, it is with one who sets her heart on cleansing herself from the impurities that beset the human soul – namely, wrongful thoughts and false convictions: as soon as she consents in her heart to withdraw from those counsels and brings her soul into the waters of reason, she is pure.”

(Maimonides)

For reflection: Even as the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur creep ever-closer, it is never too late to begin this work by setting a pure and clear intention for turning. Regroup – reset your objectives today, clear out the guilt from what you might have missed attending to over these past weeks, and immerse your soul in the cleansing waters of sincere intention.

We All Require Forgiveness

Elul 22/August 28, 2013—  A man traveling on a hot day grew weary and sat down to rest on a rock. A snake slipped toward him, but a gust of wind came, snapped a branch from a tree and killed the snake. When the man awoke and stepped away from the rock, it shifted and slipped off the cliff. Rabbi Abba saw what had happened and asked, “What is your merit that you have been saved from death twice?” The man answered, “I never fail to make peace with those who harm me. I become their friend and repay good for evil. And before I go to sleep, I forgive all who require forgiveness.” Rabbi Abba said, “You are greater than Joseph. He forgave his brothers, but you forgive strangers as well.”

(Zohar I, 200-201)

For reflection: We may not be able to make peace with all who harm us nor may we always find the courage to return good for evil. But if we could just forgive before we sleep, we, too, would live blessed lives.

God Forgives

Elul 21/August 27, 2013

It is fitting for a great God to forgive great sinners.                        (Vayikra Rabbah 5)

 For reflection: When we ask for forgiveness, too often we are asking to be excused. True forgiveness is not just being excused, but being understood. Each person has the potential to be a great sinner; think of someone to whom you might not be inclined to grant forgiveness.  Is there any way that you can begin to model great forgiveness in that situation? What would it take?

It Can Be Hard to Forgive

Elul 20/August 26, 2013

Five types of people are hard to forgive: One who sins in many different ways; one who repents and repeats the same sin over and over; one who sins in a sinless age; one who sins with the intent to repent; one who causes God’s Name to be profaned.

(Avot de Rabbi Nathan, 39)

For reflection: It is also taught: One who sins in many different ways—this one is associated too closely with our pain. One who repents for and repeats the same sin over and over—this one is never taken seriously.  One who sins in a sinless age—this one perverts justice. One who sins with the intent to repent—this one seeks to escape responsibility. One who causes God’s Name to be profaned—this one brings doubt to the minds of the faithful.

Which one would be the hardest for you to forgive? Why? Think of a situation in your own life where this is or has been applicable.  How did you handle it? What would you do differently, if you could?  We always imagine this difficult person to be someone other than ourselves….but, is it?  Even so, t’shuvah is still possible. 

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