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The Importance of Teshuva during the High Holidays

The Jewish high holidays are around the corner…

During the 10 days of repentance, our prayers and forgiveness carry significantly more weight than any other time during the year.

Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (the Shelah Hakadosh) said that our behavior during each day of the 7 days between Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur has the potential to correct our sins made during each of those days in the past year, and can affect the rest of the same days next year (Sunday corrects Sundays, Monday corrects Mondays etc).

So how do we make the most out of those days and make sure we do a proper Teshuva?

Teshuva in the High Holy days

The Torah says that G-d created the world through a combination of Midot Din (attributes of retribution) and Midot Rachamim (attributes of mercy). The high holy days is a special period in which G-d employs forgiveness to judge our actions from the past year. We all get a special window of opportunity to atone for our sins & mistakes we’ve done this year.

How? Through Teshuva.

The Talmud even goes beyond that and says that if we do Teshuva out of love, not only can we atone for our sins, but were actually able to transform our sins into merits.

While Teshuva is unquestionably powerful anytime of the year, its power is vastly greater during the 10 days of repentance. Our actions in these 10 holy days have the power to influence our verdict for last year and have a positive (or negative) impact on the next.

Maimonides wrote about the 10 Days of Repentance:

Throughout the entire year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he performs one sin, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of guilt and brings destruction upon himself.

On the other hand, if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others.

In other words: every Mitzvah or sin, has either a positive or negative effect on both ourselves and the rest of the world. During the 10 days of repentance, every person has the ability to influence his own personal balance of sins and merits, as well as the rest of the world.

The Process of Teshuva

There are four steps to Teshuva:

  1. Regret: Realizing and regretting what we have done wrong. You should realize the gravity of the sin you committed so that you can actually comprehend what you just did and sincerely regret it.
  2. Abandonment: Completely abandoning the harmful action. Not only to stop doing it (that’s obvious), but also leave the emotions behind. Dwelling on your past sins doesn’t help you move forward, in fact, it does exactly the opposite.King Solomon famously said: For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise (Proverbs 23, 16)No matter how many times you fall, your goal is to rise. Get up, dust off, and forget about your fall so you can move forward.
  3. Confession: Verbally articulate the mistakes you’ve done. Saying what we’ve done enables us to take responsibility for our actions. If we don’t verbalize it, our mind will try to find rationalizations to why we did it, rather than trying to correct it verbalizing it, confessing to ourselves and to G-d makes it real. It forces us to face the truth. That’s the only way we can actually correct our sins.
  4. Resolution for the future: Commit to not repeat the same mistake in the future. The challenge with this is to actually mean what you say. It’s one thing to say you’re not going to do it again, it’s a whole other thing to actively take action to make sure it will never happen again.

Ask yourself:

  • How do I make sure I don’t fall again?
  • How can I set myself up for success?

Like I say on my blog: list possible solutions, implement, and off you go.

Now that’s for sins we committed against G-d. What about sins we commit against other people?

The Mishnah says that for sins that hurt other people: we have to ask for their forgiveness before doing Teshuva before G-d.

Our Final Wake-Up Call

On Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur we blow the Shofar.

Maimonides said that the sound of the Shofar represents a cry for our spiritual awakening. A wake-up call reminding those who have lost their way, to come back and do Teshuva.

The high holy days are special days of forgiveness. Days where the evil inclination is not present. We get a small window of opportunity where we can talk to G-d directly and ask for forgiveness, and pray for a better future.

Let’s not let it go to waste

Shana Tova.

Member since 2017
Rafael is a writer & co-founder of Amen V Amen. He writes about practical Jewish wisdom we can all apply in our daily lives and about the importance of continuous growth & learning.
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