Image: An archer takes aim with a bow and arrow. (skeeze/pixabay)
Teshuvah means “turning.” When we “make teshuvah:”
- We notice what we’ve done wrong,
- We acknowledge that it is wrong,
- We take responsibility for it,
- We apologize and make amends, and then
- We make a plan for not doing it again.
SIN in Judaism is a slightly different concept than in Christianity. The Hebrew word chet (sounds like “hate” only with a spitty sound on the front) is an archery term. It means that I aimed at something and I missed. In Judaism, the focus is not on what a terrible person I am for doing something, the focus is to aim more carefully when I am next in that situation.
Very Important: The point of the teshuvah is not to beat ourselves up, it’s to make ourselves better. Taking responsibility and expressing sorrow are important but the act of teshuvah [repentance] is not complete until I do better. According to Maimonides, until I am in that situation again and behave differently, I cannot be certain that my teshuvah is complete.
In Judaism, the focus is on doing, not so much on one’s state of mind. It does not matter how lousy I feel about what I did, it matters that I address what I have done with the people I’ve hurt and do what I can to make sure there are no repeats.
Follow-through is important: it is not enough to be sorry for things I have done or failed to do. What is my plan for the future? How exactly am I going to do better in the coming year? Sometimes this means asking for help, calling a rabbi or a therapist to talk about strategies for change. Sometimes it means getting into treatment, or joining a 12 step group. A fresh pair of eyes and ears may see options that I don’t.
As I said above, the point of all this is not to beat myself up, it’s to make the world better by making my behavior better. Do not wallow in guilt, just note what needs to change and make a plan for change. When I feel embarrassed at what I have done, that’s part of the process. Making teshuvah will help with the shame.
Each day of our lives is an opportunity to do better, to rise above the past. As Rabbi Tarfon used to say, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet you are not free to desist from it.” No one does any of this perfectly. The point is to improve.
4 thoughts on “What is Teshuvah?”
This one needs a “love” button! Thanks to you and the writings of other rabbis, this approach to life is the way I present our choices in my book due out this fall. I find it life affirming and healing rather than condemning and negatively focused on only self!
I am glad you find it helpful!