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A new way to look at teshuva

Every Jewish year ends with the same regrets: too much time at the office, not enough at the gym. Too much screen time, not enough play. Again. I needed a change

Some recent posts on social media have referred to Elul and Rosh Hashanah as a time of guilt and anxiety, which can be especially difficult for people with mental health issues or even those who just have an extra ounce of anxiety or stress in their lives.

I used to think this way about Elul, focusing on everything that was wrong with me (it was a long list…), and despairing of being able to make significant change. If I didn’t transform from last year to this year, why should next year be any different?

Then, a few years ago, it hit me: I was doing Elul all wrong! 

The Baal Hatanya (author of the work, Tanya) — whose birthday is, appropriately enough, on the 18th of Elul — comments on the verse “the land on which the eyes of God are from the beginning of the year till the end of year” (Devarim 11:12) that on Rosh Hashanah each person receives an entirely new level of consciousness, but the level of consciousness depends on our prayers and service of Hashem during Rosh Hashanah.

The better prepared we are, the most attuned we, are the higher levels of consciousness we can draw down.

But there is a discrepancy in the verse. First it says “the beginning of THE year” but afterwards it says “end of year.” What happened to the word “the”? Every year we have our resolutions. “This is the year that…” We all have a list. We may declare that this year we will exercise more, be kinder, spend more time with family, stop gossiping, etc.

But by the end of the year it turns out — unsurprisingly — to be just another year. We never got to the gym, didn’t improve our interpersonal relationships, spent more time on our phones and in our offices than ever before and couldn’t resist the juicy rumors about the neighbors across the street. 

This happens because unless we can look beyond the surface, develop a new mindset, gain new experiences and enrich our tools, we will continue with the same outcomes for yet another year…

I read this passage by the Baal Hatanya a few times and it changed the entire way I look at teshuva.

Instead of putting the spotlight on my flaws, I have redefined teshuva as a return to my most natural self. I now look back at the previous year and celebrate the wins, take stock of my resources and contemplate the lessons I have learned.

Our mystical writings teach that beyond the physical world of asiya (doing), there are three parallel planes of consciousness, ones we largely ignore — yetzira (emotions), briya (intellect), and atzilut (God-awareness). And while the physical reality is up close, the other three are seemingly invisible, while hiding in plain sight. At any given moment, we can proactively choose which plane of existence to concentrate on and that will shape the experience we are living in.

As we near Rosh Hashana, I am sure you have a long list of things both on your teshuva and accomplishment list. On the teshuva list — emotions, behaviors and patterns you want to leave in the previous year, and on the accomplishment list — things you’d like to see happen in the coming year. The reason that most people don’t usually succeed with making good on either list is that they concentrate on the outer shell, the world of DOING, instead of the driving force of the other three levels of consciousness, which work from the inside out to influence our reality.

If you want to succeed in transforming your reality this coming year, I suggest you take these steps:

  1. Acknowledge and honor where you have been. Give meaning to experiences until now and leave behind what no longer serves you.
  2. Get clear on your unique gifts and abilities and focus your emotional energies to support your goals. Shine the light inside to discover your God-given treasure chest.
  3. Get very clear on your life mission and possible ways to carry it out sustainably, even in the unpredictable COVID reality, creating a life of meaning for you and others.

I believe that this is the beginning of a movement which sees teshuva in a positive and fulfilling way. We can all get behind this kind of teshuva and its ability to motivate change, without any of the guilt and anxiety so many of us find challenging.

Click here to find out more about this approach, and the You-turn Retreat that is kickstarting it.

About the Author
Leah Aharoni is the Founder/CEO of SHEvuk, a business consulting firm, which helps companies grow by effectively marketing and selling great services to women. Drawing on her training in Organizational Psychology and extensive background in entrepreneurship, education, and international communications, she also channels her passion for women's empowerment into coaching women to succeed in business and personal goals. When not working or spending time with her feisty sabra kids, Leah enjoys learning and teaching self-development Torah, as brought down in chassidic sources. Find out more at www.SHEvuk.com.
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