Image: Two people and an open Torah scroll. (Photo by Linda Burnett)
Return us to Your Torah and draw us to Your service,
and in complete repentance restore us to Your Presence.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who welcomes repentance.Mishkan Tefilah, p 84
In English, this prayer doesn’t immediately signal that it is about repentance, but in Hebrew the first word gives it away: Hashiveinu. Hashiveinu means “return us” but nestled in the heart of it is the root shuv, which can mean “turn” or “return” but often something having to do with repentance. The word teshuvah (repentance) comes from the same root: see the shuv right at its heart?
For Jews, repentance is all about turning and return: turning away from one behavior, turning towards another, returning to the values of Torah. Turn is a key image:
Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.”Ben Bag Bag, in Pirkei Avot 5.22
In Ben Bag Bag’s famous line, there is no shuv, instead he’s using the verb hafuch: turn it over, turn it over, which is what we do with the etzim, the “trees” of a big scroll. We turn and we overturn. We turn so that we do not run in circles. Turning returns us to the beginning, to the heart, to the end of the scroll and then back again: repentance as homecoming.
There is comfort in this blessing. “Return home! Your place at the table is waiting!”