Nizakher Venikatev: A Reflective Guide for Teshuvah
As the third week of Elul approaches, we turn to the work of teshuvah: repair and return through our interpersonal relationships as well as a return to the Divine. This work of repentance involves accountability, reflection, and self-transformation. The questions below are offered both to spark contemplation of our actions this past year and to stimulate the spiritual work of turning—of restoration within our sacred relationships.
According to the Talmud, teshuvah was one of the first things created by God, even before the creation of our physical world (Tractate Nedarim 39b). Why is repentance so elemental in our world? How is teshuvah its own opportunity for creation?
Dr. Marilyn Paul says, “To be accountable is ‘to be counted on or reckoned on.’ To blame is ‘to find fault with, to censure, revile, reproach.’ Accountability emphasizes keeping agreements and performing jobs in a respectful atmosphere; blaming is an emotional process that discredits the blamed.” In your life, how have you navigated the emotional difference between accountability and blame?
The midrashic work Vayikra Rabbah says that the sacrifice most desired by God is “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.” Where have you felt heartbreak this year? What could it feel like to draw close to the Divine through heartbreak?
What makes it easy to accept an apology? Conversely, have you ever received an apology that was difficult to accept? How did you navigate that situation?
Teshuvah is sometimes understood as a process of return, but it can also be understood as a practice of renewal. Which model speaks more to your experience of teshuvah?
The practice of teshuvah requires a person to be accountable and to apologize to those they’ve harmed interpersonally, but it does not demand that the harmed person forgive. However, it is traditionally understood that every person receives forgiveness from the Divine after engaging in the teshuvah process. What might be the difference between human and Godly forgiveness
Traditional manuals for spiritual repentance, such as the Rambam’s Hilkhot Teshuvah, emphasize that the process of teshuvah requires both thoughtful reflection and real action. We are instructed not only to acknowledge the consequences of our missteps but also to attempt to correct the harm we have done. Consider a way in which you may have harmed someone this year—what actions could you take to create some repair?
For Young Children and Families
What did you do this year that you are proud of? What do you wish you had done differently
One way of understanding successful teshuvah is finding yourself in a similar situation to the one where you originally made a mistake and choosing a new course of action. Have you ever been in the same situation twice, but made a very different decision about what to do the second time?