Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rebirth Through Teshuvah

Judaism, unlike some other religious traditions, does not see people as fundamentally evil or sinful.  We are all born with a clean slate, and if we write unsavory things on it, they can be erased.  On Yom Kippur we strive to achieve this "factory reset" by enveloping ourselves in the symbols of purification: the fasting and abstention from various bodily pleasures, the wearing of a white kittel (simple robe usually worn by clergy, although anybody may do so), the beating of one's chest for the Viddui / public confession.  Some also have the custom of immersing in a miqveh / ritual bath on the day before; this is one in which I engage with solemn enthusiasm.

As we work our way through the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance that are bracketed by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it may be helpful not only to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged in the past year, but also to focus on the idea of rebirth.  As one rabbinic story puts it:
Said the Holy One to Israel: "My children, if you turn this day, changing your bad ways, you will become new creatures, not the same people as before.  Then will I consider you as if I had created you anew.  And then shall you, newborn, be as the new heavens and the new earth that I shall create." (Mahzor Lev Shalem, p. 195).
Within our reach is the capability to be effectively reborn.  All we have to do is to seek teshuvah / repentance.

Gemar hatimah tovah.  May you be sealed for a pure year.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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