Turning Back the Clocks
Translated and adapted by Rafaella Levine
Ever wish you could turn back the clock, wish away a memory, press “undo” over certain decisions? Replay a scenario so that you could react better this time around?
In the physical world, time goes only forward, unceasingly, moment after moment after moment. But the Creator of the universe is beyond time, viewing the passing millennia as one. And He gifts us with the ability to tap into that timelessness. It is the most extraordinary of all opportunities, and in Hebrew it’s called “teshuva.”
Usually we think of teshuva in terms of erasing our misbehaviors and starting over with a clean slate. This alone is huge. When someone sins, he can go back and fix the sin and its imprint on the world and to turn over a new leaf in his life. This journey into the past and the rectification accomplished there is unique. It is something not found in other areas of our lives.
The Almighty wants us to be always close to Him. So He stretches out His hands towards those who show an interest, and He helps us the rest of the way. He calls out to man, “I have erased your transgressions like a thick cloud. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22).
The sins dissipate, the barriers dissolve, like clouds in the wind.
The Hebrew word teshuva literally means “the process of returning.” It’s about coming back to where we want to be, and being true to ourselves
Judaism believes in a good core, that we are the children of the Almighty, and hold in ourselves a part of Him. Not only that, but as infants, we held onto the innate familiarity with everything involved in high level, spiritually-connected living. In the words of the Midrash, a baby is taught the whole Torah in its mother’s womb.
The soul of man has a very high source. When it descends into this world, there is by very definition, a separation. Living in a body is a basic separation, as its physical boundaries show where we end and another entity begins. Then there are the short-sightedness, narrow-mindedness, and things like anger and jealousy that serve as further separations, at least superficially. The goal of teshuva is to elevate us more and more until we are totally connected to our point of origin. This process can take place with or without a sin or misbehavior to prompt it.
A parent’s closeness to his/her child, and a child to its parent is a first degree relationship. Nothing can ever really sever this connection, and the experience of the emotions involved is bottomless.
“You are children to Hashem, your G-d (Deuteronomy 14:1).” In our prayers from the siddur (prayer book) and Psalms, especially on the High Holy Days, we refer to G-d throughout as our Father.
And we believe that the Almighty’s relationship to us is the same. Even when children whose minds are presently closed and unaware of their Father, the Almighty does not overlook the close familial relationship, and His love for all of us is still intact. A child may tantrum an “I hate you” mantra, or slam her teenage door in your face, but that doesn’t change how you feel about them (as long as you take a deep breath and count to ten).
A symbol for the staunchness of this love is the Western Wall, the Kosel. It is the relic of our Holy Temple, the icon of our relationship with our Father in Heaven. The Kosel has been sanctified even more throughout the ages, as generations of Jews pour out the hearts beside its large stones. Somehow, despite attacks and fire, it has remained erect, a symbolic promise.
Not always was the Kosel visible. It has been covered over with dirt, or at times in mounds of garbage. But its integrity remained. It was there, intact, beneath the grime.
It’s the same thing with our soul. Our soul – our core, our source – is holy. It’s connected. It’s there. We cover it up, but it won’t be extinguished. This is what it means when they say, “Once a Jew, always a Jew.” No matter what happens to a Jew, and no matter what he does to himself, he has a special connection – a parent-child connection.
No matter what garbage we pile upon ourselves, no matter what guises we use to hide from ourselves, we are never lost. That inner child, so to speak, is calling to us to return to it. It says, “what are you so busy with? Make time for me. Take time to be with me.”
Teshuva means finding ourselves again, and in so doing, reconnecting to our Creator. Rebuilding the relationship. Which is why even someone who theoretically has never lost sight of the Torah in his or her life, and is constantly and consistently loyal to his or her connection to the Almighty, can still do teshuva. There is always a deeper level of connection we can tap into.
Teshuva is always there. It’s a possibility we can latch on to whenever we awaken to the need to do so. We can any day begin the return trip back to honesty, integrity, spiritual awareness, back to our Creator. Yet at this time of year, with Yom Kippur approaching, it is all the more so. The need is so much more poignant. The inner voice reverberates more incessantly. Because even more than at other times of the year, the Almighty is stretching out His hands to us to pull us to Him. As though He is impatient waiting for us to remember Him, He comes closer to us, knocks on our door. Will we get up and open the door?