I mentioned in my post yesterday that with the start of the Jewish month of Ellul we are entering the annual period of introspection and improvement – a process known in Judaism as Teshuva.
Teshuva is a very big thing in Judaism. the idea is that we are required to be in a continuous process througout our lives of personal improvement. We have free choice to choose to do good or bad and we are responsible for our choices. We therefore need to be constantly assessing our shortcomings and working on improving ourselves for next time.
This might sound like hard work and no fun but if you think about it, it is a far more positive and optimistic view on life than that propounded by some other religions. It also seems to me to be a very pragmatic and logical approach to life. Things can be better and we can do it. Fate does not determine the outcome and neither do we need to throw ourselves at the feet of a savior or rely on some supernatural promises. We just need to think about what we are doing and do it better.
To do Teshuva there are three stages and there is also a test to see if it worked. Anybody can do it, even if you aren’t Jewish and you don’t believe in God. That’s the great thing about it – it is so down-to-earth and pragmatically useful. The stages are as follows:
- Verbalize what you did wrong
- Feel remorse for it
- Decide not to do it again.
The verbalization is not a confession to another person who then forgives you. It can be even between you and yourself but it is important because as I have mentioned before on the subject of goals, unverbalized goals are rather worthless. The remorse is a difficult part. However without remorse, the next stage of making the decision not to do it again will be even harder.
Of course Teshuva itself doesn’t actually right any damage you may have caused to others through your past actions, so you are not off the hook until you have put right the damage as well.
The test for good Teshuva is straightforward as well. You are in the same situation again, you have the same opportunity and you are able to make the mistake again. Do you live up to your resolution to change, or do you do it over again?
Anyway, so what’s this annual period of Teshuva about? The Jewish new year is celebrated annually as a special period for reflection on the past year and resolve to do better. Lots of prayers and lots of customs to make us think about ourselves, where we are and what we want to do better next year. We are supposed to be continually improving, but once a year we have a period set aside to encourage us to confront our needs for change.
So happy Teshuva everyone.