“But I don’t have a way to erase all of the mental pictures that I took.” Don’t worry, there is teshuvah. “But I ate so much, from everything…”. Don’t worry, there is teshuvah. “But I smoked so many bad things”. Don’t worry, there is teshuvah. That was the story for all of my doubts, for all of the times that I said, “There is no chance, I am already full of sins”.
“Don’t be doubtful,” they told me. There is a concept called teshuvah. Despite my imagination, teshuvah wasn’t taken from a Hollywood movie concept. No. With a lot of patience they explained to me that the Jewish answer is deeper. Teshuvah is so deep that it was created years before the creation of the world. Teshuvah is needed more than oxygen, sun, and water. Teshuvah is internal. It is taken from the Hebrew word “to return”. To return to the moment of the wrong doing, to look at it individually, to brainstorm the reason that we did it, and to fix it internally. Of course, the different stages of repentance were explained to me, like regretting the act, and the acceptance and commitment to not return to doing the action.
Actually, the Hebrew word for sin is related to the Hebrew word “to miss” the goal. During the moment that we return to repent, we are returning to the right path, to the exact goal, and the sin is forgiven for us and erased from our hard drive. As my husband and I are baalei teshuvah (lit. “masters of teshuvah,” those that have returned to Jewish observance), we had felt as if we found America. We have so many things for which to do teshuvah, so many moments to think about and to stay away from, sometimes with sadness of doing the sin and sometimes with sadness of missing doing it.
And then we heard that there is an additional concept, a “start-up” if you will; it’s called Shabbat Shuvah (the Shabbat of Teshuvah) and whoever keeps this special Shabbat is looked at as if he kept all of the Shabbats in the year. I can’t even explain the happiness we felt. There is nothing like me that loves an express line. Because in the beginning of the teshuvah process, with all of the happiness, I was carrying with me a heavy feeling in my throat.
I remember the difficult feeling when we decided to observe Shabbat, a built-up desire inside of us to discover the secret of Shabbat. We started learning and becoming interested. We bought the vinyl-covered children’s book “The 39 Avoth Melacha of Shabbath”. Something about the colored illustrations softened the hard feeling for us that the whole situation was more than we could handle. But as we learned more, I understand that I am very far from keeping Shabbat seriously. I understood how many mistakes I am doing by accident. I really remember the extreme sadness from the understanding that even if I really want to keep Shabbat, I don’t yet have the knowledge of how to fully observe Shabbat.
The Power of Shabbat
And then the Shabbat arrived. We kept it at our friends that were heading in the same direction as us. The knowledge that there is an exception that is applied for me for all of the times that I ripped toilet paper, that I turned on the light in the refrigerator, that I selected or kneaded in a forbidden fashion (and more!) – and don’t even get me started about the world of muktzeh – this knowledge planted in me the ability to continue to sometimes make mistakes on Shabbat, but also not to relax and let myself make mistakes purposefully.
After Shabbat Shuvah, Yom Kippur arrives. Yom Kippur is actually the day that Moshe return from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments – the second time – after the Golden Calf. When he came down with the new tablets, Hashem gave a blessing and sign that He is erasing all of the sins and opening a new page. On Yom Kippur, every year, on that powerful day which ends with the resounding blast of the Shofar, we also really break out in a new page, clean, pure, full of forgiveness and empty of sin. It’s amazing.
I know that I haven’t finished working and growing but I’m also confident that my teshuvah will be accepted. And one day I will succeed in following a straight and honest path.
Okay; I finally understood. Teshuvah is a giant thing in Judaism. Without it, actually, there is no Judaism at all. Good ideas are one thing, and reality is something completely different. Because what happens when we repent, or when we attempt to repent; why in our heart do we still keep a notebook of sins? How many times did it happen that our child screws up, and we pull out the notebook and we read all of our previous mistakes that would be found guilty in a court? How many times do we note in the notebook debts and credits, in our album of gestures, the faults of our spouse that we hold very close, in order to retrieve ammunition during an argument? How many times do we ask for forgiveness, but discover that underneath there is a river of debts that we thought that we had already apologized for? How many times do we judge ourselves and raise to our awareness what we are praying to forget?
All of us are familiar with this situation. We know well in our hearts that we have a lack of (should-be-basic) emunah, trust and faith in God, or the belief that teshuvah exists in the world. The real teshuvah is not like a stain on a white shirt that we’re not fully able to remove with a lot of detergent and bleach, which inevitably is a part of us that will forever stay on the cloth. Real teshuvah puts a new shirt in the closet. Real teshuvah, with regret, atonement, and forgiveness, the teshuvah of Yom Kippur is the real forgiveness from our Father in Heaven. It is the teshuvah that we pray for daily, where we pray to start again. That is the teshuvah that should we pray God should put in our hearts, towards each other and towards ourselves.