“True Teshuva:” Being in the Same Place and Acting Differently
Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann
About a month ago, my mother said something on a phone call that took my breath away. While she did not necessarily intend this comment as hurtful, it nonetheless bruised almost instantaneously. Or rather than bruised, it unwrapped a bandaid to reveal a scar that never healed, that aches when light hits the skin.
And do you know what happened? Do you know what I did?
NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. And, it was one of the greatest things I did all year!
In any other instance I can remember or imagine, this comment would have been met with me screaming at the top of my lungs, name calling or in the best case scenario immediately hanging up the phone.
But this time, I didn’t say anything. I got quiet, I muted the phone to collect myself, and moved on with the conversation.
I had to pinch myself all that evening and the next day- had that really happened? Or was I dreaming it?
Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers and scholars- and the teacher of much of what we know about this process of teshuvah (through his Hilchot Teshuvah).
He taught that “True Teshuvah” is being in the same exact situation you were in previously where you ‘sinned’ where you ‘missed the mark’ and this time, acting differently. Showing up differently. Refraining from your previous behavior.
Maimonides was not as psychoanalyst or a therapist or even a life coach, nonetheless, he nailed it! Growth is changing enough, or healing enough to not respond to the same stimulus the same way. To find new ways that better foster connection and love.
This is not easy stuff. It’s ongoing, daily work — teshuvah that is every day, as our tradition also teaches.
In this instance with my mother, I assume it was a combination of Jewish spiritual practice, therapy, parent coaching, the increased wisdom that comes with aging that helped me successfully “do nothing” /”True teshuvah.” And maybe I woke up on the right side of the bed-there is some luck involved too!
Rosh HaShanah is vitally important because it helps us come back full cycle after a year and commit again to the journey. But turning is the work of our lives, turning is the growing of soul/self every day. It is predicated on the idea that we are never “complete;” it is never too late to turn.
Let us remember the awe and power of this day — and use it as a springboard for our lives. So we can find more opportunities for “True Teshuvah.”