At the end of this month, Jews around the world will celebrate the High Holy Days beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (also known as the Festival of Trumpets), and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. These are the most sacred days on the Jewish calendar. Accordingly, the entire month beforehand is designated for spiritual preparation. These are days of introspection as we evaluate our lives, our actions, and our goals.
There are three pillars that serve as the foundation of the High Holy Days, principles that are relevant to Jews and Christians alike: repentance, prayer, and charity. For the next several weeks, I hope that you will join me as we dive deeper into the meaning of these three virtues. This week, we will start with an often misunderstood term, repentance.
There is a beautiful teaching that I heard from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. He pointed out that there is no Hebrew equivalent for the word “sin.” The closest we get to it is the word “chet,” but what that word literally means is “a miss.” When someone aims an arrow at a target, but fails to hit it, it is called a chet. This word implies that that the shooter missed the mark.
Another Hebrew word used to denote wrongdoing is “aveira,” which literally means “a cross over.” This word indicates that a line was crossed. It suggests that there is a proper path and that the perpetrator, knowingly or mistakenly, went off track.
These nuances are profound. They emphasize the idea that while we may miss the mark or veer off the path of righteousness, we can correct our error and return. With time and practice, we can get closer to hitting our target and staying on track. Our job is to “get right with God,” to align our intentions and aspirations to His will. Getting things right will come with time, so long as we keep trying and improving.
With this understanding in mind, we can also appreciate the Hebrew word for repentance, “teshuvah.” The root of the word teshuvah is shuv, which in Hebrew means “return.” In the Book of Joel we are directed, “Return (Shuvu) to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (2:13). To repent is to return to God and to return to our true selves. When we have missed the mark or crossed the line, the act of repentance is a return to the right path and the right direction.
I share these teachings with you because these auspicious days are meaningful to all Bible believers. They are the holy days referred to in Leviticus 23:23-32, and while we may observe these days differently, they are sacred to us all.
“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return (shuv) to the LORD” (Lamentations 3:40). And let us start the Jewish New Year right by making sure that we are right with God — and everything else will fall into place.
With blessings from the Holy Land,
Tags: High Holy Days IFCJ Judaism Repentance The Fellowship Yael Eckstein