Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are wonderful, important holidays. We follow traditions and create new ones. The food, family and synagogue (which often means seeing people you haven’t seen in a year) are the best parts. However, we all struggle with the part about “repentance” — what a hard word! The Hebrew word teshuvah is easier — to return. But what are we returning to?
Each year now I scour the Internet and books to find a different way to describe this process not only to the children I teach but the adults as well. There are thoughts and resources galore and although I share them, each of us must still do the work!
So here is the latest thought from eJewishphilanthropy.com. It is by Rabbi David J. Blumenthal from his piece Repentance and Forgiveness, which appears in the journal Crosscurrents. Rabbi Blumenthal looks at the rabbinic view of sin, repentance, and forgiveness and found that all (most) agree on five pieces. 1) Recognition of one’s sins as sins; 2) Remorse — a very difficult feeling to process internally; 3) Desisting from sin — stopping the actions and making the decision not to do those acts again; 4) Restitution — making good (if possible); and 5) Confession — personal and specific!
All of this makes sense but it isn’t easy.
Probably steps 1, 2, 4, and 5, although challenging, are really the easy part of teshuvah. The hard part is, of course, not doing the sinful acts again.
There is another dimension of this that we often forget — what makes us stop the act? Do we decide not to speed because we got a ticket? Do we weigh the chances of getting caught and punished to make us stop? Is it the fear of the possible punishment or do we actually have to experience that consequence? What is your motivation?
The fear may also be the fear (which really isn’t the right word here) of the terrible feeling of remorse. Judaism is action based with the hope and belief that the action will lead to positive feelings. As long as you don’t do the “sinful” act, does the outside world really care about your motivation? If I don’t steal because I don’t want to get caught and put in jail, does the store owner care my motivation? Yet, does resisting sin out of fear lead to us being a better person — a mensch?
Hopefully these thoughts and questions will provide a little thinking time for you and your family during this holiday season. These conversations are truly for all ages. There are a few things to think about before having these conversations with children (although it applies to all ages).
First, you must think about the children, their ages and stages, and decide what words to use and the examples to give. The second is that even if young children do not understand the conversations that older siblings or parents are having, they will learn and gain from the conversations happening around them — you never know what will “stick” (and that goes for an angry teen or disgruntled grandparent sitting at the dinner table).
Talk, talk, talk and then listen, listen, listen!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.