More Reflections

I love it here.  I can’t even express how grateful and thrilled I am to be in Jerusalem.  So, here’s what’s been going on with me:

First, Shabbos deserves a brief mention.  I spent it in the Jerusalem neighborhood where I’m living, which is almost exclusively Orthodox, and got a taste of what Shabbos really should be like.  Nobody drives in my neighborhood on Shabbos, so everyone walks together to synagogue, not bothering to look out for cars; little children play in the streets while their parents are praying in the synagogue which is right down the street from anyone’s apartment; and the only thing you can hear is people connecting with each other and with G-d through Torah, prayer, and song.

Next: Goodness…I am involved in some seriously intense Torah learning!  I suppose a blog isn’t a bad place to share some Torah thoughts….

It’s the month of Elul, right now, leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the most important days of the year.  As we say in the prayer service, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed,” I don’t remember the exact wording, but–basically, everything that will happen in the upcoming year is written/sealed in the “book of life”–who will live and who will die, how much money each person is going to make in the next year, whether you will find your soulmate, etc.  So, now’s the time to annul your vows, repent for any wrongdoing, and pray to be written and sealed in the Book of Life.  Basically, it’s a time for “Teshuva, Tefillah, and Tzedakah”–repentance, prayer, and charity–which are said to reverse unfavorable decrees.

Sounds rather depressing, no?  Talking to G-d for weeks on end about how imperfect we are and we don’t deserve to be forgiven because of this, that, and the other sin, but begging for forgiveness anyway.  BUT: I learned today that the Chassidic master Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl said, quoting his teacher the Baal Shem Tov: “דהנה תשובה הוא מצות עשה מן התורה ולכן צריך לעשותה בשמחה.” — “Behold, repentance is a positive commandment in the Torah, and therefore one needs to do it with joy.”

How does one repent joyfully?  Any thoughts?

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5 Responses to More Reflections

  1. BKop says:

    As you might imagine, I’ve thought about the question you’ve asked for decades. And I’ve made peace with my answer. I repent joyously on a daily basis. To do that, I forgive myself and I forgive others. To do that, I look for mitzvahs to perform, often quiet acts that may never be noticed. Rather than stockpile my sins, I acknowledge them, try to make amends then and there, and move on. I know that I’m not very traditional; that’s why I don’t expect anyone else to follow my example. As ever, I trust that G-d will understand.

    love, always


  2. Amiel Goldberg says:

    While I hadn’t heard that particular quote, I had heard that, too, that one should be joyful on Yom Kippur. I believe that in that context, it would be from the anticipation of forgiveness from God. However, I have some problems with this, as the attitude of the prayers is quite depressing on many occasions, and the theme is often heartfelt pleas for forgiveness. It seems like being joyful would be highly inappropriate. I’m just imagining a child who is saying “I’m sorry” after being told to by his or her parents, and being told to “wipe that smile off” of his or her face.

    I have also read the the various requests in the weekday Amidah are supposed to be done with “Tachanunim”, whether these are separate prayers or merely the manner of prayer in general. Tachanunim generally seems to be something that is not joyful, being translated into English with phrases like “heartfelt pleas”. If regular weekday prayers are supposed to be like that, how could prayers during the Yamim Noraim, the “Days of Awe” (or maybe “Terrifying Days” is a better translation) be more lighthearted than that, particularly on Yom Kippur. (BTW, I came across this:, which has some stuff on the power of weeping, sort of in the context of repentance…)

    I’ve usually felt more in line with Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, who said “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” Even if you don’t go that far, it isn’t much of a stretch to say that the proper mood during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would be at least awe, if not abject terror.

  3. Julianna says:

    Acknowledging our imperfections means acknowledging that we have room to grow. Taking these occasions and cherishing them seems a joyful act to me. Isn’t one of the very reasons you are so happy and grateful to be in Jerusalem because of all of these opportunities you have to learn and grow? Can’t repentance come from that same place and be joyful?

  4. MAK says:

    There is nothing more joyful than those final moments on Yom Kippur when the Shofar is sounded at the conclusion of Neilah…nothing more intense and pure and joyful than that moment of culmination of the tshuva process….

  5. ayalinbetween says:

    CB, reading this post made me realize how much I miss your insightful nature and our conversations (about life, faith, “Jewish-ness”, and everything else).

    If I wanted to give a Baptist perspective in response to your question, I would probably throw out a few passages from Psalms along with a parable or anecdote from my life. Instead of doing that, I’ll share two quotes that I found while reading and thinking about your question. One quote is Jewish, the other is Sufi.

    “Man’s advocates are repentance and good deeds.” -Talmud: Sabbath, 32a

    The act of repentance originates from a place of humility, abject brokenness, and sober-eyed understanding of our flawed condition. Our best efforts at repentance still fall short of the mark, but these efforts can still speak to God of our recognition of our brokenness, our admission of fault, and of our desire to “do good.” We can have joy in repentance, because the very act of repentance speaks to God on our behalf.

    “Life without repentance is spiritual agony; to be absent from God is immediate death. Life and death both are sweet with God’s presence: without God even the Water of Life is fire.” -Rumi

    I feel that this quote (although I take issue with some of its implications) captures the idea of joyful repentance well. I won’t break the quote down, because I feel that it speaks clearly enough on its own.

    Repentance is a messy, sobering process. We have to acknowledge our sin, and in doing so we must confront some of what is dark and ugly in this world and in ourselves. But in this confrontation of sin, we bring the focus of our lives back to the pursuance of light, and the pursuance of our God.

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