KJ Hannah Greenberg


We long to return to the derech of Torah, to get closer to Hashem, to reawaken ourselves as convalesced neshemot. An excellent route to our achieving these goals is for us to make teshuvah.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles, writes, in “Judaism and Reincarnation” that “[a]t every point of moral decision in his life, a Jew has complete free choice. If not for freedom of choice, how unfair it would be of G-d to make demands of us—especially when reward and punishment is involved!.” More exactly, we can make teshuvah. We can make teshuvah through our thoughts,  our words, and our deeds.

First, per our thoughts, it’s vital to realize that cleaning up our speech and actions while retaining adulterated thoughts is like wearing handsome outer garments and beautiful clothes along with dirty underwear. Withal, our most intimate aspects of ourselves need to be wholesome.

Consider the case of the Yid who improperly prays “Shemoneh Esrei,” on a fast day by neglecting the necessary liturgical alterations. That person strays. Likewise, the individual who suddenly hurries to the bathroom while reciting those prayers but returns to the middle of them rather than starting entirely over, transgresses. Similarly, the congregant who rushes through prayers, at all, errs.

Mull over, too, the case of the Yid who harbors resentment. That human forgets that Hashem controls the universe and that he or she, at best, is Hashem’s messenger. On top of that, they forget that anger is idolatry since anger is dissonance creating by seeing  events as failing to resolve per personal dictums. There’s no reason to become psychologically unbalanced when someone else is offered a job, gets married, has better SAT scores, etc. If we really believe that there’s infinite abundance in Shamayim, then others’ jobs, marriages, college acceptances, whatever, do not preclude our own. Plus, Life runs according to The Boss’s design, not ours. Although only Hashem knows about those drifts since only Hashem can divine the contents of our minds, these actions, taken on the behest of less-than-wonderful thoughts, darkens our souls.

Second, we make teshuvah through our words. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto teaches, in The Path of the Just, that beyond our thoughts and deeds, we must concern ourselves with our words. 

Bear in mind the manner in which we’re required to speak to parents (and to others whom we’re meant to esteem, such as Torah scholars, teachers, and the elderly). Rabbis Elozor Barclay and Yitzchok Jaeger write, in Guidelines: Qs and As about the Laws of Honoring Parents, “[w]ith the exception of Torah matters, one must not contradict [their parents] in their presence. This applies whether others are present or not and whether one contradicts directly or indirectly.” In other words, our personal virtues relies, in part, on the degree to which we bestow venerate the people we’re supposed to respect.

Outside of showing deference to superiors, we’re supposed to be careful in exchanges with our fellows. “It is forbidden to speak demeaningly of one’s friend, even if it be absolute truth” (Kagan).

Furthermore, we have to be vigilant when we speak to persons with less social standing, e.g., children or assistants. We’re instructed to “pay close attention to the child’s particular needs and pace of understanding. Some children thrive on competition; others may be crushed by it” (Simmons)..

Essentially, our superiors, our equals, and our subordinate, all must receive carefully dispensed word from us. Thereafter, if we realize that we have spoken improperly to any of them, we need to rectify the situation. We must cease to take part in the wrongful behavior, regret it, humble ourselves, and then act differently the next time that a similar state of affairs occurs.

Third, we make teshuvah through our deeds. “All the members of society should improve their deeds” (Sefer Yesodei HaTorah) not only for our own sake, but, correspondingly, for the sake of Am Yisrael. See, we pass before The Aibishter twice on Rosh Hashanah; once as individuals and, again, as part of The Nation of Israel. Our chesed, particularly the kindheartednesses that we implement and that other Jews rely upon, matter. Hashem disallows us penalty if such forfeit on us will negatively impact others. Benevolence, thus,  is valuable in and of itself and for the reason that it sweetens Hashem’s judgment of us. 

For instance, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero teaches, in The Elucidated Tomer Devorah: Learning Compassion through Hashem’s 13 Attributes of Mercy, that not thinking, speaking or acting angry is a great boon.

When a person consistently does favors for another and is one day met with a tremendously offensive display of ingratitude, in which the beneficiary of his kindness uses his the very favor he [or she] bestowed in order to harm him—it is a difficult insult to bear.

If he [or she] nonetheless continues to bestow the same favor that was used against him, with the hopes that one day the beneficiary will make amends, he [or she] displays a restraint of anger which ascends to heaven and awakens Hashem’s attribute of mercy expressed by ‘Who, Hashem, is like you?’ brining that element of mercy into the world.

Moreover, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd, reminds, in “The Nature and Scope of Heavenly Judgement,” of the existence and function of Beit Din shel Maalah, of the heavenly system of judgment, Hashem “takes into account all of a [person’s] intentions, not just his actions.” That is, He weighs our purposes and our actions’ ends. Given that our mitzvot connect us to Hashem, just wanting to enter into deeds of loving kindness, even before we’ve engaged in any corporeal action, is, itself, a springboard to a deeper kesher with The Boss (Rabbi Zushe Greenberg). According to the above, Repentance definitely includes modifying conduct. 

We need to straighten out our thinking, guard our tongues, and act with chessed. “Rabbi Jonah of Gerona (d. 1263) call[s] repentance a sanctuary, a place to escape the intensity of sin. It is also the place to embrace the strength needed to fight our hardest inner battles and our stubborn resistance to change” (Brown). Teshuva expands us.


Barclay, Rabbi Elozor, and Rabbi Yitzchok Jaegar. Guidelines: Questions and Answers about the Laws of Honoring Parents. Targum, 2014.

Brown, Erica. Return; Daily Inspiration for the Ten Days of Repentance. Maggid, 2013. Accessed 7 Feb. 2024.

Cordovero, Rabbi Moshe, The Elucidated Tomer Devorah: Learning Compassion through Hashem’s 13 Attributes of Mercy. Adapted by Rabbi Shmuel Meir Riachi. Feldheim, 2015.

Greenberg, Rabbi Zushe. “A mitzvah is not just a good deed” [sic]. Chabad Center of Solon. Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.

Kagan, Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen as Chofetz Chaim. Introduction to the Laws of the Prohibition of Lashon Hara and Rechilut, Negative Commandments. Chofetz Chaim, Trans. Silverstein. Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.

Schwerd, Rabbi Moshe. “The Nature and Scope of Heavenly Judgement,” Kolmus, Mishpachah Magazine, Rosh Hashana 5776, Sep. 2015.

Sefer Yesodei ha Torah. Accessed 7 Feb. 2024.

Simmons, Rabbi Shraga. “How to raise the next generation [sic].” Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.

Tilles, Rabbi Yerachmiel. “Kabbalah on Judaism and Reincarnation.” Accessed 21 Jul. 2023.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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