Friday, August 21, 2020
First Day of Elul 5780
Rosh Chodesh Elul
In the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Israelites all stand at the base of Mount Sinai and hear God’s voice from the mountaintop declare, “I am Adonai your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods beside Me” (Exodus 20:2-3). It is a foundational moment in the Jewish relationship with God.
We describe that relationship as a covenant – a two-way agreement. God pledges devotion to us and we pledge our devotion to God. The Ten Commandments and the Torah given at Mount Sinai are the foundation of that agreement. We strive to live up to our end of the deal by trying to live by God’s commandments and by being the best people we can be.
However, because we are human, we make mistakes. There are many different kinds of mistakes, but the most common Hebrew word for this kind of human failing is “cheit.” Fittingly, the word comes from a root that means “to miss the target.” When we make a mistake in our relationship with God, it is compared to an archer missing the bullseye. It is an error. It is something we can make up for by trying harder and learning to do better.
In English, we usually translate the word cheit as “sin,” and that is sometimes a problem. In English, “sin” sounds like something that requires a punishment, an offense that makes God angry. In Hebrew, not every cheit rises to that level. T’shuvah is the process for correcting our mistakes. It is not about feeling guilty for horrible things we have done that make God want to punish us. T’shuvah is about correcting our mistakes and renewing our covenant with God.
Practice for this day:
Think about some of the recent mistakes you may have made in life that make you feel badly – times when you hurt someone’s feelings or times when you were less than forthright. How would it feel if you could feel totally and completely forgiven for those mistakes? How would it feel if you were entirely forgiven for every mistake you had made in your life? That is what t’shuvah is about. It’s about releasing yourself from guilt and hard feelings you direct against yourself. It’s about correcting your tendencies to make the same mistakes over and over again. It’s about making a mid-flight course correction in your life that gets you going in the right direction.
Write a few words about the course corrections you would like to make in life and the feeling of forgiveness you would like to feel.