Repentance - Teshuvah
Repentance: The Meaning & Practice of Teshuvah
How can we repent to those we have wronged? Almost every day, in ways large and small, we hurt others, most often those closest to us, in ways that we regret. These inevitable shortcomings, if not addressed and redressed, bring guilt and shame in their wake, undermine our relationships, and can even erode our selfesteem. We want to undo what we have done, but how?
Reclaiming The Self
RECLAIMING THE SELF: ON THE PATHWAY OF TESHUVAH
Teshuvah is one of the great gifts of life. Through Teshuvah we are able to return from pain, fragmentation and confusion to a place of greater unity and well-being, to our authentic self. RECLAIMING THE SELF offers a glimpse into a world with-out the damaging influence of past negativity - where misdeed is transformed into merit.
Atonement for sins is discussed in the Hebrew Bible,
known to Christians as the Old Testament.
Rituals for atonement occurred in the
Temple in Jerusalem, and were performed by the
the Israelite priests. These services included song, prayer, offerings and animal
sacrifices known as the
korbanot. The rites for
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are prescribed
in the book of Leviticus chapter 15. The ritual of
the scapegoat, sent into the wilderness to be claimed
by Azazel, was one of these observances (Lev. 16:20-22).
A number of animal sacrifices were prescribed in the Torah
(five books of Moses) to make atonement: a
sin-offering for sins, and a guilt offering
for religious trespasses. The significance of animal sacrifice is not expanded on at length in the Torah, though
Genesis 9:4 and
Leviticus 17 suggest that blood and vitality were
linked. It should be noted that modern conservative Jews and Christians argue that
the Jews never believed that the aim of all sacrifice is to pay the debt for sins - only the sin-offering and the guilt
had this purpose; modern scholars of early Jewish history, however, often disagree and argue that this division came later.
Later Biblical prophets occasionally make statements to
the effect that the hearts of the people were more important than their sacrifices - "Does
the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than
and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (I Samuel 15:22); "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and
of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6);
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51:17) (see also
Isaiah 1:11, Psalm 40:6-8).
Although the animal sacrifices were prescribed for atonement, there is no place where the Hebrew
Bible says that animal sacrifice is the only means of atonement. Hebrew Bible teaches that it is possible to return
to God through repentance and prayer alone. For example, in the books of Jonah and Esther, both Jews and gentiles repented,
prayed to God and were forgiven for their sins, without having offered any sacrifices.
 Additionally, in modern times, most
Jews do not even consider animal sacrifices. On the High Holidays of
Yom Kippur - also known as the Day of Atonement-,
and the ten-day period between these holidays, repentance of sins committed is based
on specialized prayers and hymns, while some Jews continue the ancient methods of sacrifice. An example of a common method
of "sacrificing" for the sake of repentance is simply to drop bread into a body of water, to signify the passing
of sins and the hope for one to be written into the Book of Life by God once again. This is especially emphasized on what
is arguably the holiest Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur.
Repentance in itself is also a means of atonement (See
Ezekiel 33:11, 33:19, Jeremiah 36:3, etc.) The
Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah which literally means to "return (to God)." The
prophet Hosea (14:3) said, "Take with you words, and return to God." Judaism teaches that our personal
with God allows us to turn directly to Him at any time, as
Malachi 3:7 says, "Return to Me and I shall return
to you," and Ezekiel 18:27, "When the wicked man turns away from
his wickedness that he has committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive."
God is extremely compassionate and forgiving as is indicated in
Daniel 9:18, "We do not present our supplications
before You because of our righteousness, but because of Your abundant mercy."