Repent! How many times have we seen someone on a street corner shouting that word? Or perhaps we’ve watched a movie where one of the characters is portrayed as a crazed religious figure carrying signs with that word on it, claiming the world is coming to an end?
We have a natural aversion to that word and what it might represent, but did you know that the word for repent in the Hebrew is the word “teshuvah,” which comes from a simple root — lashuv — meaning to turn or to return?
The Jewish Fall Feasts — Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 15-17), Yom Kippur (Sept. 24-25) and Sukkot (Sept. 29-Oct. 6), called the High Holy Days — are a culmination of a 30-day season of teshuvah. The Jewish nation is called to look inward, to self-reflect and return to the “source of life.”
We are encouraged to prepare for the High Holy Days by slowing down and reconnecting with what matters most of all — our vertical relationship with our creator and our horizontal relationships with our fellow human beings. We are called to undergo what is described in Hebrew as “cheshbon ha-nefesh” — literally an accounting of the soul.
This self-examination is not for the purpose of counting all the good and the bad we’ve done, in the hopes that the positive has outweighed the negative. It is, in fact, an acknowledgment that, as part of the human condition, there is good and bad in our hearts, minds and actions.
During this season of teshuva, we are encouraged to walk ourselves through the difficult and sometimes painful process of turning inward to acknowledge our shortcomings honestly. Then, we are to turn outward and ask forgiveness from those we may have hurt, intentionally or otherwise. Most importantly, we are called to open wide our hearts to our creator, with a sense of humility, owning our flaws and asking his forgiveness.
However, true teshuvah is more than just recognizing our faults and asking for forgiveness. It is an opportunity to hit a spiritual reset button. It is a chance to let go of the greatest sins of all — the sins of apathy and forgetfulness — apathy toward hurting ourselves and others and forgetfulness over our eternal need for God’s love, grace and truth.
Of course, teshuvah is an enduring process, a daily struggle that is not one-and-done. On the contrary, it is a slow-motion activity that should be genuine and lifelong. The 30 days before Rosh Hashana and the subsequent intense 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur offer an opportunity to remind ourselves of this critical need to return to God and godliness and the transformative healing that this teshuvah can provide.
Our Christian friends will recognize this concept in many of the New Testament writings. The letter to the first-century Jewish believers, Hebrews 12:1-2, states: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Teshuvah leads us to cultivate godliness while eradicating habits that lead into sin.
Yom Kippur is indeed the highest of the High Holy Days — the Day of Atonement, when we present ourselves to God, trusting in his forgiving grace, as it marks the climax of this period of teshuvah. For the believer in Yeshua (Jesus), it is a reminder of the atoning power of his sacrifice, once and for all, and the ongoing cry of the heart to follow that message of forgiveness, with a commitment to living a life of teshuva — a life of turning and returning to our creator.
– Daniel Robitshek is senior rabbi, and he and his wife, Tracey, are honored to celebrate God’s love, with Jews and gentiles, at Congregation Beth Yeshua North Georgia.