On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

How does one do Teshuva?

Teshuva, while typically translates repentance literally means return.  Teshuva is one of those words that most of us throw around easily.  We tell people and ourselves that they should so Teshuva. We refer to ourselves at Ba’al Teshuvas.  Around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur especially, we need to work on Teshuva.  That all sounds nice, but…

How does one do Teshuva?

The book Hayom Yom describes how the saintly Reb Meshulam Zusya of Aniponli dealt with Teshuva.  “He can not attain the heights of Teshuva; he therefore breaks down Teshuva to its components for each letter of the word Teshuva is the initial of a verse:

T: Tamim – “Be sincere with the Eternal your G-d” Devarim 18:13
Sh: Shviti – “I have set G-d before me always”  Tehillim 16:8
U: V’havta – “Love your fellow as yourself” Vayikra 19:18
V: B’chol – “In all your ways, know him.“ Mishlei 3:6
H: Hatznei’a – “Walk discreetly with your G-d.” Micha 6:8

The Rebbe Rashab of Lubavitch said that each letter is a path and a method in the avoda (labor) of Teshuva.

What did Reb Zusya mean that we should be sincere with G-d?

Before we can answer that question, we need to recall a famous story about Reb Zusya.  It’s told that when Reb Zusya was an old man, his students came into his room and found him frightened and crying.  He explained to them that he felt that his life was drawing to an end and his judgment was drawing closer.  He said, I’m not afraid that G-d will ask me Zusya, why weren’t you Abraham or why weren’t you Moses.  I’m don’t have their great potential.  I never had the abilities to accomplish what they accomplished.  I’m afraid that G-d will ask me, Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?  Why didn’t you live up to your own potential?

This story gives a tremendous insight into how we’re judged.  According to Reb Zusya, we’re not judged according to what the Code of Jewish Law says we should do or what our Rabbi or friends say we should do, but only what we really could have done.  And we’re judged in a world of ultimate truth… no excuses.

Close to 10 years ago, I was sitting with a fairly new Ba’al Teshuva on Rosh Hashanah and I told him this story.  I then asked that if G-d would ask him if he prayed the entire morning service and the entire afternoon and evening services, what would he say to G-d.  He thought about it a minute and calmly said that he wasn’t at a place in his spiritual development to be able to do that.  I told him that according to Reb Zusya, he doesn’t have to worry.  I then asked him what would he say if G-d asked him if he could say the Shema every morning and every evening.  His face instantly became pale.  He literally started to stutter… and he said, I could do that.  I told him then that’s where he needs to work on.

Sincerity with G-d is eliminating all the excuses that we sometimes tell the world and often tell ourselves.  I like to use the analogy of an alarm clock.  My alarm is typically set for 5am.  There are times when it goes off and I’m so tired, I just can’t get out of bed.  I need that snooze.  There are other times where I wake up at 5:09am and don’t even remember hitting the snooze.  But, there are other times when I hit snooze and maybe I could have gotten out of bed if I would have pushed myself.  This is where sincerity comes in.

You can apply the same sincerity to every aspect of our lives.  There are times we need to relax… that we just can’t go to the class or minyan or whatever.  Maybe we turn on a baseball game to unwind.  In the world of complete sincerity, that’s fine.  The question is at what point are we relaxed enough to spend our time doing a mitzvah and at what point to we just want to keep watching the game?  Does it really go that far?  Where does it end?  If a Jew needs to take a break, and I mean really needs it… let’s say he just emotionally needs to take an hour break.  What’s the big deal if he takes and hour and 5 minute break?  After all, it’s only 5 minutes… such as small amount of time.  What difference can it possibly make?  Well… it’s enough time to give someone a smile… give a friend a hug… tell someone that you love them.  It’s enough time to learn just a little bit of Torah, but that little bit of Torah his G-ds infinite wisdom and therefore, even 5 minutes can be limitless if we use it correctly.

The answer and circumstances are different for every person and changed with every situation, but the first step in doing Teshuva is recognizing what we are and what we could be.

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