Dear friends and readers,
I have decided to diverge for this post (and maybe further posts also) from relating to you my experiece of my first months on Jerusalem to sharing some of the Torah I am learning here in the Holy City, also to be fair to the title of this blog that I have chosen.
The topic of the last days has been Tshuva. Many of you may have already learned what this concept of Tshuva is and means, and why we are focusing on this so much during this time of year. That all staying valid, I want to share some Torah around this topic with you.
The literal translation of "Tshuva" in Hebrew is "return". Most of us have learned that Tshuva means repentence, but the literal meaning of the word, does not support this translation. Repentence means "feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin", but this is not what Tshuva is primarily about. Tshuva means return. Return to what? you may ask, and rightfully so. The most prevalent opinion is that Tshuva means return to the ways of HaShem and so to HaShem Himself. The Jewish people have sinned (read "turned away") from HaShem in the past and the Prophets would call on the Jewish People to return to HaShem! What I find extraordinary with this concept is that Tshuva in this understanding is part of a relationship, a relationship between the Jewish people and HaShem. The word repentance does not give you this notion at all! The Jewish people and HaShem have a relationship, that needs mending because of our sins, our turning away from Him. That mending is Tshuva. Coming from a humble place and admiting our wrongdoings and reaffirming to HaShem that we want this relationship with HaShem and asking is to take us back. Turning away from our practices that make HaShem sad, and returning to practices that make HaShem happy. Why am I saying practices? Because like in any relationship, love is expressed through actions, same with HaShem. If you don't know how to approach this whole Tshuva process, ask yourself how you would go and ask your partner for forgiveness after you have done something that upset your partner. In fact our sages say that the condition for recieving forgiveness with HaShem is asking for forgivesness with our fellow Jewish brothers and sisters. You may ask why would this be connected? For one, our relationship with other people is a model for our relationship with HaShem! We cannot be at odds with others and expect to recieve forgiveness from HaShem. For another, the same way HaShem wants a reltionship with you, He also wants a relationship to every other Jew! But if you are at odds with someone HaShem also loves, how can He forgive you, when you don't love that other Jew also and are at peace with him? Rabbi Akiva teaches us that the most important Mitzwah of the Torah is "Love thy neighbor as yourself". You love yourself? Love your neighbor! Where is God in the eqation? Right there! If you love God, you should also love your neighbor, who has the same spark of God in him, as you have.
Yom Kippur is an awesome and happy day! Yom Kippur is likened to the wedding between the Jewish Poeple and God. The same way thato one fasts on the day of his/her wedding, we fast on Yom Kippur.
According to Rav Kook, as he writes in his book "Orot HaTshuva", the process of Tshuva entails returning to your true self. Think about all the things that you were doing that did not reflect your true self? Yom Kippur is the day to make the resolution to shed those things and return to being in sync with yourself. When you return to your true inner self, you also return to God, who is at the core of each and every one of us. Take the time and think about what you can do, to which actions you can return, that reflect your true self best!
So what's with all the fasting? Why do we need to fast in order to achive Tshuva in the best way? What has one to do with the other?
Let me attempt to give some explanations.
Rav Kook also speaks about returning to ones divine inclinations and turning away from ones physical inclinations. When we fast we are emphasizing our spiritual sides over our physical sides. When we were born, HaShem put a soul into a body. Both the soul and the body have their needs. The soul wants to cling to HaShem, her source, and the body wants to expericence all the physical pleasures of this world. Our task as Jews is to untilize the physical body with all its urges to fulfill the desires of the soul! So connecting the spiritual and the physical! However on Yom Kippur we want to give the soul it's time to speak. During this time any physical impulses would be just a distraction. Same as during the year we can sometimes be too distracted by all the physical aspects of life and not have enough capacity for the desires of the soul too! This way Yom Kippur is a kind of remedy against the self-forgettinng and a reminder for all the things that actaully matter in our short life here on earth. That is bringing Godliness into this world.
PS: another fun fact. The Hebrew word for sin is "chet". The literal meaning of this word is "to miss out". What are we missing out on when we sin? We miss out on life! HaShem gaves us the days of our life to do Mitzwot and we are using it to sin! What a waste!
Wishing all of you a Happy and Meaningful Yom Kippur, a Gmar Chatima Tova and a light fast!
If I have in any way hurt or insulted you in the past, I am asking for your forgiveness and hoping you can forgive me too!
Next year in the Holy City of Jerusalem folks!