Until the advent of the Ba’al Shem Tov and Chassidut, the process of teshuvah, repentance in the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, was filled with bitterness. In the books of the mussar movement that preceded Chassidut, it was even written that the word teshuvah, repentance, is an acronym in Hebrew for fasting, sackcloth and ashes, weeping and eulogy. This would make teshuvah a very bitter experience, indeed.
Chassidut turns the entire experience of teshuvah around. One of the great disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov was Rebbe Zusha of Anapoli. He said that with him, teshuvah is something completely different – a joyous renewal and deepening of our relationship with God. Rebbe Zusha also took the word teshuvah as a basis for an acronym: The first letter of teshuvah, tav, represents the verse, “Tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha/ Walk simply with Havayah, your God”. The second letter of teshuvah, shin, represents the verse, “Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid/I set God before me always”. The vav of teshuva represents the verse, “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha/Love your neighbor as yourself”. The beit of teshuvah represents “B’chol drachecha da’ayhu/In all your ways, know Him”. And the final letter of teshuvah, the hei, represents “Hatzneyah lechet im Hashem Elokecha/Walk modestly with Havayah your God”. These are the five stages of teshuva according to Chassidut.
The Chabad Chassidic masters would expound upon every one of these stages of teshuvah – of renewal and deepening our relationship with God. The first stage of this process begins with simplicity, “Walk simply with Havayah, your God.” The constellation of the month of Elul is the virgin. Although we do not attach importance to stars and constellations, they are nonetheless a reality that should tell us something about our own internal service of God. What is the virgin? It is the simple innocence of the soul. We must remain constantly simple, which is no contradiction to being simultaneously very wise. Nonetheless, our souls should always be in a state of virginity – a state of simple and innocent being with God. We must constantly anticipate this innocent love of God, “I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me,” – the verse that applies to the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance, until Yom Kippur. From that state of simplicity, we attain the joy of the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah.