If you have ever observed the two days of Rosh Hashana carefully, you should actually feel confused. Although Rosh Hashanah is called the first two of the “ten days of Teshuvah”, throughout the entire two days there is no Teshuvah (viduy/ confession) and actually NO reference at all to Teshuvah or to regret for our misdeeds.
But then what should be the focus of these two possibly most important days of the year?
In order to answer that, first, we have to deal with another issue: the commonly accepted misconception surrounding Teshuvah. Teshuvah is usually translated as repentance. Not only is that wrong but actually Teshuvah fundamentally means the exact opposite.
Repentance has its source in penance, which implies guilt for what we did in the past with the focus on our effort to become better in the future. But the root of the word Teshuvah is to return (=Tsuv). According to our traditions, deep inside, our soul essentially is pure. We make mistakes, we might get lost, but we believe that our origin, the core of where we come from has been good. The identification of our misdeeds, then apology and then confession are all part of the Teshuvah process but the main focus is to return to that perfect state, where there was clarity about who we were supposed to become.
Yom Kippur is the opportunity to correct ourselves. But on Rosh Hashana we don’t do viduy, we don’t confess. On Rosh Hashana you have a different goal: it is the time to clear your mind and to connect to that ideal state that once in a while you feel you touch, but that gets lost so quickly in the turmoil of the every day routines of the year.
The two days of Rosh Hashana are an opportunity to really connect to your inner calling and to achieve clarity about what your real goals in life SHOULD BE…Only you know if your calling is to do more work ;-), to give more charity or time to the community, to learn more or to focus more on family/dating.
Just like with Google maps, when you are lost or want to get somewhere, you need both the “From” and the “To”; and the “To”, i.e. the ending point alone is not enough, you always need the “From”, the starting point, that is, your current location as well.
This is the same with Teshuvah: in order to know where you are going right and wrong in your life, first you need to honestly acknowledge your starting point, and accept your current situation. Elul and Rosh Hashana is the time to get in touch with yourself.