Nizahker Venikatev

Nizakher Venikatev: A Reflective Guide for the Ten Days of Teshuvah

During the Aseret Yamei haTeshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we turn both inward and outward. Internally, we intensify our work of heshbon hanefesh, the work of holding ourselves accountable: both our souls and our actions. At the same time, we turn outward to our relationships with others and with God. We ask ourselves—What do we need to repair in those relationships? How do we reconcile with others whom we have harmed and continue to “show up” for our emotional and spiritual work during these ten days of connection? “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed,” we sing. During the Ten Days of Teshuvah, we engage with the metaphor of “the Book of Life,” where our experience of the next year will be written according to both our past deeds and our current attitude toward change. 

One refrain in our High Holy Day liturgy proclaims,”Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah can reverse the Divine Decree.” Which of these modalities of spiritual change (teshuvah, prayer, and tzedakah) feels most accessible to you? Which is the most challenging?

The medieval sage Maimonides once said of these ten days, “Even though repentance and crying out to God are always timely, during the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur it is exceedingly appropriate and accepted immediately.” What about the Ten Days of Repentance makes reaching out toward the Divine more appropriate?

In a season of pandemic, it is easy to feel the days meld into one another. What changes can you make to your daily routine during this period to emphasize the different quality of the Ten Days?

In your experience, is an apology more meaningful to receive if it is expected or if it is not anticipated?

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah,“the Shabbat of Return.” To what are you wishing to return this year? Journal about what this return might be like: How would you feel? What would you say?

Rabbi Isaac Luria (also known as “the Ari”) taught that the seven intermediate days between the end of Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of Yom Kippur can represent the shape of our weeks for the rest of the year: This Monday represents all upcoming Mondays, this Tuesday is a model for future Tuesdays, etc. What new intentions or routines would you like to set for this new Jewish year? How can you bring these intentions to this representative week?

Write a letter to who you were during last year’s Ten Days. What do you wish you had known? What changes or interpersonal repairs did you successfully make in the past year? What are you still looking to shift?

For Families:

On Rosh Hashanah, we wish each other a shanah tovah u’metukah—a good and sweet New Year! During the Ten Days of Repentance, we do extra work to ensure that goodness and sweetness extend to our own lives and how we treat other people. Brainstorm as a family: What are ways you could bring in some sweetness and goodness to one another? How could you do so for other people in your lives?

Have you ever had to convince someone to change their mind? How did you do it? How did you feel in the end, and how do you think the other person felt?