When all seems lost and we are convinced that there is no turning back, He offers us a precious gift, which He calls Teshuvah
IT is a blizzard in September. A blizzard of calendars for the new year: huge wall calendars, tiny, wallet-size calendars, desk calendars, pocket-size. They come in the mail every day, they accost you in school, yeshivah, shul; they find you at meetings, lectures, street kiosks.
I would love to ward off the thought that another year has gone by, but there is no avoiding it: The ineluctable truth is that if a new year is coming, then that must mean that another year has gone by. It would be pleasant not to think about the past year, about the might-have-beens and the should-haves, and the what-ifs and the who-knows, but, caught in this blizzard, I can think of nothing but calendars.
Which is too bad, because there are certain things I might want to correct. Is there any way to make changes in that old year and make it better? Any way to re-do it, re-write it, re-enact certain events, re-speak certain words? Any way to have used time more effectively, to have squandered less of it? Any way to hold on to it, not let it disappear into the dusty file of gone and forgotten? To transform yesterdays into todays and tomorrows? To futurize the past? In a moment of 3 a.m. daftness, desperate measures occur to me: I could refuse to toss out the old calendar, could refuse to recognize the chutzpah and disrespect of the new year that brazenly pushes out the old. But by cold morning light, I realize that that would only confuse things.
Calendars are the shock troops of their tough, unrelenting taskmaster, Time. Time possesses powerful troops: clocks, watches, and calendars, and these, as attractive as some of them are, can be very cruel: They have no respect for age, status, experience. They allow no appeals, they have no mercy. Nothing can resist their power, nothing can stand in their way. The old year has come to an end. There is no turning back, no appeal. The end. Period.
Wrong! There remains one last way to make amends for all my errors of the closing year, and that is to appeal to the Timeless One, to Him Who transcends time and for Whom there is no past, present, or future. When all seems lost and we are convinced that there is no turning back, He offers us a precious gift, which He calls Teshuvah, Repentance. This gift is available when there is sincere regret for past misdeeds, and honest resolve to correct them in the future. In fact, according to one stunning opinion in the Talmud, sincere and heartfelt repentance has the power to “transform transgressions into merits” — zedonos naasos k’zechuyos (Yoma 86b).
(To be honest, I would be content to forgo the bonus transformation; just to erase the errors of the past and wipe the record clean would for me be more than sufficient.)
Of course, such a gift is not offered to just anyone. Besides sincere regret and resolve, certain entrance requirements must be met. We cannot casually saunter into the realm where calendars and time have no dominion — that realm known as eternity and infinity.
How does one gain entry into such a magical kingdom? There are several passageways available. Serious prayer is one such door; more intense study of Torah is another, as are additional acts of chesed and kindness. The entire system of mitzvos introduces our souls to these aspects of timelessness.
And so, ruefully and regretfully, I slosh through the calendrical blizzard, grasp my old one and discard it. It may be gone, but because it offers so many lessons for the future, we will remember, recollect — and build upon it with fresh, new parcels of time, which mean new opportunities, new ways to do better and be better. The word “teshuvah,” after all, means “return” — a return not only to our Creator, but to our pure and holy selves.
Truth to tell, the Talmud’s protocol for re-writing the past is an offer I cannot refuse.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 978)
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