The month of Elul is all about coming closer to God. The Hebrew word for this soul work is teshuvah, which is translated as “repentence” but actually means “returning”… returning to the path on which we are meant to be but have veered away from during the past year. “Repentance” seems to mean regret or contrition for sins and the resolve to start anew. “Teshuvah” means something very different – a return. I understand it to be like doing something completely against your typically good nature, being aware of and regretful for it, and then returning to your pure self.
Teshuvah, then, is the return to that essential, real self.
When I visited my dad’s office years ago, I noticed that he had a framed copy of an excerpt from Tikkun Nefashot (though I didn’t know the source at the time) and he encouraged me to read it. Since I have had it displayed in our home office for many years now, I assume he must have given me a copy long ago as a gift as well. Here’s part of it:
“Now is the time for turning.
The leaves are beginning to turn
From green to red and orange.
The birds are beginning to turn and are heading once more toward the south.
The animals are beginning to turn
To storing their food for winter.
For leaves, birds, and animals turning comes instinctively,
But for us turning does not come so easily.
It takes an act of will
For us to make a turn.
It means breaking with old habits,
It means admitting that we have been wrong:
And this is never easy.
It means losing face:
It means starting all over again:
And this is always painful;
It means saying, “I’m sorry.”
It means admitting that we have the ability to change;
And this is always embarrassing.
These things are terribly hard to do.
But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever
In yesterday’s ways.
Lord, help us turn –
From callousness to sensitivity,
From carelessness to discipline,
From fear to faith.”