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Teshuva: Returning to God and to Ourselves

By: Danya Allswang, Chicago, IL

In this week's parsha, Parshat Nitzavim, we are taught about the mitzvah of . What's interesting is that the English translation of the word " " is repentance, to feel great remorse for our actions.  However, the Hebrew word " " really comes from the root " ," which means to return.  The most apparent reason why Judaism uses the word is that it views repentance as the process of returning to God. The focus and goal of the process is not beating ourselves up for past mistakes but restoring our relationship with our Creator. 

Interestingly, Rav Kook suggests that what we’re returning to when we do   is actually ourselves.  He writes that deep down, we all want to be good Jews and good people, and doing teshuva helps bring us closer to that; it helps return us to the best version of ourselves. 

Rav Adin Steinsaltz clarifies that these two ideas are linked together because we were all created in God’s image and possess a tzelem elokim, a Divine spark, within us.  By doing , we simultaneously reconnect to God Himself and to the most fundamental part of ourselves, the Divine spark that is at our own core. 

With less than a week until Rosh Hashana, every Jew takes it upon himself to improve his connection with God and, in a sense, return to Him. For this reason, it is very fitting that the mitzvah of returning to God is discussed in this week's parsha, as it says " " - and you shall return to Hashem, your God.

The process of teshuva described in this week’s parsha includes a physical return as well – a return to Eretz Yisrael after years in galut, exile.  This is a return that is special to all of us students here at Midreshet Amit. As we spend the year in Israel, we are living the idea that God will return us to the land of our forefathers- ".

May we all have a Shana tova u'metuka and a Shabbat shalom!