Monday, September 2, 2013

THE 'HOW-TO' OF TESHUVA

The "HOW TO" of TESHUVA

TODAY: Pray for the welfare and peace of the People of Israel.
"Acheinu Kol Bais Yisroel"- May Hashem protect each and every Israeli soldier who is in harm's way and return them safely to their families.

It's the time of year for teshuva and Israel is once again being threatened. We stand by (near or across the ocean) waiting helplessly as government officials decide the future of the world. But are we helpless? Is there anything we can do? Last week my husband told me that he wrote letters to the President, and local and state representatives. I said to him, "That's so nice but do you really think they care what you think?" "Of course not, but I felt I had to do something," he replied.  

It made me think "is there anything I can do" or am I helpless? Then I remembered the wisdom of Mussar and realized there is something I can do.
I can activate the Teshuva process that G-d has given me.

I don't think it's a coincidence that major world events seem to happen at this time of year, do you? Maybe these specific times are put in place for us to take a break to deeper look into ourselves.

Each person can make a difference in the world, if he makes a difference in himself. 

I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "teshuva" the first thing that comes to mind is, "Oh no, I have to say I'm sorry." I have to face everything I did (and said) wrong to everyone I love. I get buried under regret, remorse and shame. No wonder I don't want to do it! It's way too unpleasant, painful, and usually awkward. But that's not what Teshuva is really about. 

Think of teshuva as a spiritual self-improvement process not a "feel bad about yourself" process.  Hashem did not give us teshuva so that we feel guilty and hang our heads in shame and poor self-esteem (after we admit our shortcomings). 

If you walk around with unspoken guilt, shame, or harbored resentments in relationships you are burdened down. You react instead of act. Your choices are unpure because they stem from past incidences. They are subsequent reactions not pure actions. 

Freedom comes from forgiveness; the weight is lifted, the cleansing begins, you are free to be your true self. You can't live a free life if you are held back by past regrets. And if you do not forgive someone who hurt you, you cannot experience your goodness- the truth of your soul. Teshuva is the cleansing process. When you do it right, your true hidden essence (the goodness of your soul) is exposed.

Change cannot happen, life cannot improve if you do not humble yourself to see your flaws.

As Rabbi Salanter said, "Seeing your flaws is the light to the future."

It's time to ask yourself: 
Was there a time when I could have been kinder? Not so angry? Or judged someone favorably instead of critically? Was there someone I turned away from instead of reached out to? Could I have felt compassion instead of anger? Can I put my ego aside and admit I'm not perfect? Can I admit that I made a mistake? Can I apologize when I don't think I'm wrong- but then I do (apologize) because I realize I hurt someone I love?

Use this teshuva checklist:
1) Think about what you've done- 
     Then ask for forgiveness and forgive yourself.
2) Think about how you would like to act- 
     Visualize yourself filled with kindness, compassion and positive vision.
3) Which character trait would you like to improve? 
    Then slowly work to refine it.
4) What can you do to improve your relationships? 
     Then speak with patience and love with compassion.

We often hold ourselves (and other people) hostage in our minds if we are unforgiving. Relationships cannot flourish if we build walls around our hearts. Each person has an undiscovered holiness deep inside that cannot come out until it is freed through the process of teshuva. When you face your own flaws and forgive yourself AND then accept the flaws of others and forgive them- you are free! Your goodness is revealed and you can forward into a new year- pure, clean and clear.

Let the sounds of the shofar awaken you to your holy soul.
Blessings for a sweet and healthy year!

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