A quick take on Teshuva



October 11, 2016

Traditionally, we use the time around the High Holidays to atone for our sins by seeking forgiveness from those we’ve wronged throughout the past year. Teshuva, or repentance, can take many forms, though. We asked three members of the Hillel community – a student, a rabbinic intern and a senior Jewish educator – to share their perspectives on what Teshuva means to them.

Summoning the resilience to forgive

We often focus on asking others for forgiveness. I want to add one small thought on forgiving others. At a security conference I recently attended in Israel, the head of the U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center stressed the value of resilience, defined as “the ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens.” The same applies to recovering from injury in our personal lives.

The Talmud Yerushalmi in Makkot recounts: “What is the punishment of a sinner?” Wisdom and Prophecy both reply, “The sinful soul shall perish.” But unlike Wisdom and Prophecy, God responded, “Let him repent and he will be forgiven.”

We should seek that godlike quality – that after a year of others injuring us through words or actions, we now summon the resilience to forgive. This new year, when the words or actions of others challenge us, rather than instinctively cut them off, we should give the benefit of the doubt, forgive and grow stronger from the challenge.

Mikhael Smits
Center for Jewish Life – Hillel at Princeton University

Returning to a state of wholeness

There is a lot of talk of repentance, but the translation I prefer is return. Let us return to a better time in our relationships, before we may have said the wrong thing and hurt someone close to us. Let us return to a state of harmony, and call out racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination around us, rather than standing idly by. We have little control of things going on around us, but we can control our actions. As we seek forgiveness for mistakes that we have made, even inadvertently, we have the chance to heal each other and ourselves, and return to a state of wholeness and perfection.

Danielle Kranjec
Senior Jewish Educator
The Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh

Taking the scenic route to reflection

You know when making a wrong turn in your car, the gentle voice announces “recalculating”? Teshuva is just like that, and completely different. Teshuva is a process of realignment, recalibration, turning and returning towards the relationships, God and personal qualities that we know to be most important and life-affirming in our heart.

This is when Facebook’s year-in-review slideshow could come in most handy. Recalling communities we’ve joined, relationships we’ve entered into and left behind, commitments that we’ve made and broken, now is as good a time as any to slow down and reflect.  Unlike Waze, teshuva doesn’t show us shortcuts, but invites us to take the scenic route back home.

Elie Lehmann
Rabbinic Fellow
Tufts Hillel