This being the first week of the month of Elul, in our countdown to the end of the Jewish year, the mitzvah this week is teshuva. Translated as “repentance,” the word stems from the Hebrew for “return.” Repentance lies in a process of returning to the scene of the crime as it were, returning to our best selves, returning to the people from whom we should ask forgiveness, and in other words, returning to God.
In the words of Rabbi Jack Riemer (one of the rabbis of Temple Beth Hillel* in its heyday):
God, help us to turn—
From callousness to sensitivity,
From hostility to love,
From pettiness to purpose,
From envy to contentment,
From carelessness to discipline,
From fear to faith.
Changing our ways begins with changing our attitudes. When we turn inward to understand why we make mistakes, why we harm others (whether intentionally or inadvertently), why we sin, we are at the beginning of the process of teshuva.
So for this week’s act of teshuva, I recommend thinking about one individual with whom you feel some sort of breach. It can be as small as feeling awkward to as large as feeling guilty. When you’ve identified that person, consider what happened in your own mind to lead to the breech. What role did you play? Consider how you can return to your best self, and imagine how that could bring healing to even a small place in your life. I recommend starting with someone you expect will accept you fully, as a rehearsal for the harder conversations.
When you are ready, reach out to that person. Send a note or an email. When you feel really ready to do teshuva, make a date to meet face to face. Do not ask forgiveness or apologize in writing, especially by email, unless you truly believe that the breach can be repaired that way. Better to look that person in the eye, have them see you fully, and be prepared to listen with an open heart.
This week, consider how to repair one relationship as an act of teshuva, an act of moving from a place of anger or fear to a place of true connection.
Wishing you an Elul full of connection!
Rabbi Barbara Penzner
*Beth Hillel and Beth Torah merged in 1970 to become Temple Hillel B’nai Torah, and this year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of that merger.