Yom Kippur: A Time to Return

Question

These days I see and hear the word “teshuva” quite often. What does it mean and why is it so important?

4 weeks

Answers

  1. The word teshuva means return. You might ask: Return to what? Classically it refers to returning back to the way of God after a transgression. Transgression interferes with one’s relationship with God, and therefore when one takes steps to “fix” the transgression he re-establishes and returns to a close relationship with his Creator. By doing teshuva a religious person who experienced moral failure is able to repair its consequences.

    In recent years, however, teshuva seems to have taken on a new meaning. People who come from a non-traditional home who decide to adopt the traditional ways of Judaism are also called “doing teshuva” – returning. This may seem to be a misnomer. How can a person return to something he never had? However, this “return” can also be understood, in the deepest sense, as a true return to his original state of being, as follows.

    Our tradition teaches that all Jewish souls stood at Sinai to hear God reveal the Ten Commandments. Tradition also teaches that they learn the entire Torah in the womb. There is a natural intimacy that exists between the soul and its Creator. A person from a non-traditional home is confronted with the challenge to “do teshuva” to his soul’s original and natural state. One who meets this challenge indeed returns from his temporary estrangement to his prior state of intimacy with God, regardless of his initial level of knowledge and observance.

    Teshuva is vital for our existence, an indispensable factor in the final redemption, and it is one of the greatest kindnesses that God has bestowed upon mankind. Above all, however, teshuva is an obligation that is incumbent upon every Jew.

    The Torah promised the Jewish People that not only will they repent “in the end of days,” but that they will also merit Divine assistance in their repentance, as it states, “And the Lord your God will ‘circumcise’ your heart and the heart of your children” (Deut. 30:6). Amen.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team