The How-To Of Teshuva


Elul is here. The Jewish calendar provides us with a specific time of year for self-inventory.

The time for teshuva is now and once again Israel is being threatened.

We stand by waiting helplessly as government officials decide the future of the world. Is there anything we can do? Are we truly helpless?

Last week my husband told me that he wrote letters to the President, local and state representatives. I said to him, “That’s nice but do you really think they care what you think?” “Of course not, but I felt I had to do something,” he replied.

His comment triggered my thoughts, “Is there something I should be doing? Am I helpless?”  Instantly, the wisdom of Mussar came out from my the depths of my subconscious mind (as it always does in times of need) and I realized, “Yes, of course, there is something I can do!”

I can activate the Teshuva process that G-d has given me. And now is the best time to do so.


Each person can make a difference in the world if he makes a difference in himself.

Oh no, I thought. Whenever I hear the word teshuva the first thing I think is, “no way, that’s not something I want to do.” I don’t want to think about everything I did and said wrong. I have a long list of “I’m sorry, I feel bad, and I shouldn’t haves” that I’m not ready to face.

My second thought, is “maybe if I ignore my list, it will go away?” Why bring up the past? Whomever I harmed seems to be over the hurt I caused. Why should I become buried by regret, remorse and shame?

No wonder I don’t want to face my wrongdoings. It’s way too unpleasant, painful, and awkward. But I know the purpose of teshuva isn’t to make me feel guilty.

According to Mussar, teshuva is a spiritual cleansing process, not a “feel bad about yourself” process. Hashem did not give us teshuva so that we should feel guilty or hang our heads in shame.

When you walk around carrying unspoken guilt, shame, or harbored resentments, you are burdened down. Your impulsive choices stem from past incidences. They are subsequent reactions, not pure actions.


How will I ever stop my harmful behavior or have peaceful relationships if I cannot admit when I do wrong?

As Rabbi Salanter said, “Your flaws are the light to the future.”
Only through acknowledging my flaws will I be able to change them.

I had to ask myself these questions:

Was there a time when I could have been kinder?
Could I have been silent instead of yelling?
Was there someone I judged critically instead of favorably?
Could I have felt compassion instead of anger?
Should I have put my ego aside and admitted I am not perfect?
Can I admit when I make a mistake?
Do I apologize when I don’t think I’m wrong?

I admit it… I answered YES to all of the above.

I have to forgive others, and I have to forgive myself.

I can’t live free if I am held back by past regrets.

Teshuva is a cleansing process. When you do it right, your true hidden essence- the goodness of your soul- is revealed.

Change cannot happen; life cannot improve if you do not humble yourself to see your flaws.


1) Think about what you’ve done that you could have done differently.
Then ask for forgiveness from God, the person you hurt and don’t forget to forgive yourself.

2) Think about how you would like to act.
Visualize yourself filled with kindness, compassion and positive vision.

3) Which character trait would you like to improve?
Slowly work to refine it.

4) What can you do to improve your relationships?
Speak patiently, and love compassionately.


We often hold ourselves (and other people) hostage in our minds if we are unforgiving. Relationships cannot flourish if we build walls around our hearts.

Each person has an undiscovered holiness deep in his soul that cannot come out until the process of teshuva begins.

When you face your flaws AND accept the flaws of others, your goodness is revealed. Only then can you move towards a new year- pure, clean and clear.

Blessings for a sweet and peaceful new year!

L’Shana Tova

About the Author
June Silny was born in New York and raised in Miami, Florida where she still lives. She became a student of the ancient mystical wisdom of Mussar in 2008. She is a teacher and blogger of that ancient philosophy.