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Teshuvah Boot Camp

A chance to realize how much we need Him in every aspect of what we do


For many years, I came into the Yamim Noraim so frustrated.

Here at the magazine, the days before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are our peak crunch time. Once, a fellow editor described it as a dark tunnel that sucks you in and blocks everything else out.

Even with advance planning, there’s always a last-minute rush. There are pieces that fall apart, new ones to commission, files upon files to edit, photos to track down, captions to write, stacks and stacks of printouts to check. We work until late, then wake up early and start again. We keep checking and rechecking and adjusting our grids until they begin to invade our dreams. We promise our families that soon we’ll be back home for real, able to focus on them fully instead of panicking over the interviewee who dropped out or the photo shoot that didn’t happen yet.

Between crises we hear snatches of nusach wafting through a window, or sing about apples and honey as we get the little ones ready for school, or do our best to ignore the neighbor’s kids as they conduct yet another shofar practice session. And we know, on some level, that the Yamim Noraim are all too close. But the pressure is so intense, the deadlines so close, the workload so daunting…

Then it all stops. At some point, we find ourselves inside a shul, staring at familiar words in a machzor, and shivering. Because the Day is here, because so much hangs in the balance, because teshuvah is the order of the hour — and what do we have to show? A really fat Yom Tov magazine?

I’m sure I’m not the only one at the office who spent years wishing I could cram all those work hours into a corner and really focus on the upcoming Yamim Noraim. Then I realized something. It’s true that our crunch season at work overtakes most of Elul and half of Tishrei. And it’s true that many of us don’t have much time for formal shiurim or the other spiritual preparations that worked for us in the past. But we do have a very effective “teshuvah boot camp” built into the crunch.

Here in this boot camp, we have the chance to stay positive and encouraging, to bite back harsh words, criticism, or grumbling, even as we endure some of the toughest pressure of the year. We have the challenge of overcoming sleep deprivation and stress and the inevitable frustration of features collapsing at the last minute, and still smiling at our families and keeping the angst from spilling into our limited time together.

We have the opportunity to redo those encounters we may have bungled during the year — and this time, to offer the feedback in a respectful way, to ask for a second draft without sounding dismissive of the first. To swallow very hard, delete every word of the too-clipped email, and try for a more gracious tone. To remember that if He put us in this pressure cooker and not at the inspiring pre-Selichos speech, there’s some kernel we can glean or some muscle we can strengthen here too.

And most of all, it’s a chance to realize how much we need Him in every aspect of what we do. Because without His help, without His silent orchestration of this symphony we think we’re conducting, even an 18-hour workday won’t yield any music.

Shoshana Friedman

Managing Editor


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 877)

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