Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I know the High Holidays are coming very soon and I want to get more
out of them than parading around in a new fall outfit. This year, as I
crest fifty, I’ve been doing a lot more soul searching about what
matters to me for the latter part of my life. I’ve heard the t’shuvah
word each year at the holidays but never understood what it means in
a way that was meaningful. I’m not a “sinner” in theold-fashioned
sense, but I guess I do lie and break some commandments. Can you
give me T’shuvah 101?
Dear No Saint:
T’shuvah is too often talked about in a way that implies we’ve screwed
up. That’s there’s a big lack, or shame about not having done what
we’ve said we wanted to, that we haven’t lived up to our potential. The
prayers during services cover a lot of that ground. Here’s another
perspective. Think of t’shuvah as a chance to free yourself from old
habits, from belief systems you’ve clung to for too long, from ways of
seeing and being that, if you can move past them, will allow you to be
closer to God. T’shuvah is about returning to God but it is also about
returning to a more elemental, a purer, sense of your self. A sense of
yourself without self-judgment and without the fear of judgment by
T’shuvah is a return to the divine spark in you that makes you holy.
Give yourself time each day to really feel that. To really let in the idea
that you’re a holy being. That being holy is more than just going to
High Holiday services, more than giving tzedakah or helping old ladies
across the street. It’s really remembering, believing in, breathing the
breath of life into, in a truly elemental way, that you are indeed holy.
Try to do that for three minutes every day. Even if it’s hard to grab
hold of, or may slip away from you like a half-remembered dream,
grasp it, know it, so that you can truly be open to the rituals of
t’shuvah. If you do, you’ll find a sense of renewal during the holidays
that will carry you into a profound sense of change and affirmation.
You might even keep more of the commandments with a sense of joy,
without feeling like they’re a burden.