Preparing for the New Year
The High Holidays can be a dichotomy of emotions – solemn yet joyous, inspiring but daunting. How to act, what to feel, where to be… all these things can be overwhelming in this extremely spiritual time. To be fully equipped for this intense time it is necessary to prepare. It is for this reason that Judaism has built in a whole month as a time of preparation for the High Holidays.
As we know with any important occasion, to get the most out of an experience planning is essential. The Jewish month of Elul is the period of preparation for the High Holidays. This preparation is necessary as the Jewish New Year brings many obligations. Amongst them is the idea of teshuva. This term means ‘repentance’, but more accurately means a ‘return to God’.
During Elul intensive introspection occurs as one works towards clarifying one’s goals to come closer to God. It is a time to take a step back and look at ourselves honestly and with a critical eye with the objective of improvement. Elul has sort of hyper-spiritual atmosphere which is meant to encourage teshuva.
Teshuva comes in two phases and is a four-step process within each phase. Foremost, we must understand the steps which are regret, cessation, confession and resolution. More specifically, first one must first understand that a sin was committed and truly fell remorse. Next, is to cease the harmful action immediately. The third step is verbalization: explaining the sin aloud and then asking forgiveness. The final step is to come to a resolution, usually a commitment to never repeat the sin in the future.
The initial phase of teshuva is to seek forgiveness from any person to whom we have sinned. We must make every effort of resolution before we can seek Divine forgiveness. The one who has committed the sin is required to seek forgiveness three times. If after the third time the other person still refuses to grant absolution, the sin is considered resolved. At that point the person who has not accepted the apology is guilty of rancor.
We seek forgiveness of others first because cannot truly ask God to redeem our sins with the knowledge that we have grieved other people. God requires repentance with a clear conscience. Therefore, we must make sure all disputes and sins to others are resolved so there is nothing weighing on us when we approach God.
After one believes they have resolved all sins committed against others, they must turn to God for their final repentance. This process is both simple and complex – a dichotomy found throughout the High Holidays. It is important to be sincere, honest and throughout. Therefore, it will take a month of contemplation to make sure we ask for complete absolution for our transgressions.
The process of teshuva will take time and should take time as the absolution of one’s transgressions is not something that can be done in a moment. We begin anew at Rosh HaShannah and are lucky to have time to adequately prepare. Every opportunity should be taken to make full advantage of it. We thank God we are given the chance to refresh and renew ourselves. It is important not just for our spiritual growth, but for our relationships with all humankind.