When a computer device of some kind isn’t operating correctly, the first question any technician will ask is, “have you tried rebooting?” The option may be called “Restart,” but it means the same thing: clean out apps that are running, wipe the memory clean, and start up again.
Judaism teaches that people are basically good. In essence, we want to do the right thing. But we succumb to temptation. We do bad things. We let ourselves learn bad habits until we find ourselves in a rut, unable to get back onto level ground.
It’s as if we need our own “reboot” system. And we have one.
This is the concept of Teshuvah. Teshuvah is often translated as “repentance,” but in common usage “repentance” is taken away from its simple meaning. As of this writing, the Wikipedia entry on “Repentance” insists that “The doctrine of repentance as taught in the Bible is a call to persons to make a radical turn from one way of life to another.” Despite that claim, this idea is found nowhere in Judaism — and we did have the Bible first. It doesn’t have to be “radical!”
The word Teshuvah comes from the Hebrew root “to return.” It is about getting back to where we were always supposed to be, following the path we were always supposed to follow.
Today, many people will colloquially refer to a person who adopted traditional Jewish observance in adulthood as a “Ba’al Teshuvah,” but that is not the classical meaning of the term. It means “Master of Return,” and this is something everyone should be — especially on Yom Kippur.
Four Steps to Teshuvah
Our Sages provide a relatively straightforward three process for Teshuvah:
- Regret – a person must sincerely regret wrongdoing
- Abandonment – the person must commit to not doing the misdeed(s) anymore
- Confession – to cement the process, the person must then admit to G-d what was done wrong in the past, along with his or her commitment not to do so in the future