The High Holidays are celebrated this year in the heat of a federal election campaign. Next month, Canadians will be going to the polls to vote for their new members of Parliament. Typical to an election campaign, each party leader is promising real change, if he or she is voted into power. Along with that, each candidate comes up with attacks against the others, claiming that the others cannot bring real change. One claims that his opponents lack the experience and therefore their promises for change are not realistic. Another claims that his opponents have no intentions to bring change, but rather it is all a bluff.
Interestingly, this hype about change is very relevant to us at this time of year. Every Rosh Hashanah, we face the same dilemma. On one hand, we truly want to effect change in our lives in the New Year. At the same time, we know how difficult it is to change, and how easy it is to convince ourselves that we are changing when, in reality, it is more of the same.
The sound of the shofar we heard on Rosh Hashanah is a wake-up call to all of us. Maimonides, in his Mishnei Torah, describes the call of the shofar this way: “Wake up you sleepers from your sleep and you slumberers from your slumber. Search your deeds and repent.” It is a call to all of us that says “the time for real change has come.”
Are we expected to really change? What does it really mean? And how do we do it?
The Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah. My teacher, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, once pointed out that a more literal and exact translation of the word teshuvah is to return. Repentance connotes forgetting the past, remorse, and an intention to start behaving in a completely new way. Returning, teshuvah, however, means coming back to the original past, to a natural pre-existing condition. The foundation of the concept of teshuvah is the notion that the Jew is, in essence, good. Desires or temptations may deflect us temporarily from being true to our essence. Teshuvah is therefore a return to the self. It means going back to our roots in God and exposing them as our true character.
In light of the above, the change we are looking for is not really to become someone new. What is required of us is to return to our original self and reveal our true identity. This is especially accessible to us during the 10 Days of Teshuvah/Repentence. These 10 days begin with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur. These days contain the energy that allows us the access to our true self and deeper identity.
Wishing you and you and yours a Happy and Healthy Sweet New Year!