One of the dominant themes of the High Holiday season is repentance. In Hebrew, repentance is known as teshuva and it is a multi-tiered process that requires more than just feeling bad about one’s transgressions. 

Like almost all Hebrew words, teshuva is based upon a three letter root. The root letters of teshuva are shinvavvet. These letters are also the building blocks for words related to returning. If teshuva is a process of repenting – of regretting a wrong action, confessing it, apologizing and taking action not to repeat that same error – how is it related to the idea of returning?

According to tradition, each time a person transgresses a Jewish law, his/her neshama (spiritual soul) is distanced from its connection with the Divine. Acts of repentance bring one back closer to that connection. 

In the Torah, God clearly foretells that the Children of Israel will sin and stray from Torah observance, and that they will suffer as a result. The Torah also predicts  that the Jewish people will return to the ways of the Torah and that when they are ready to do so, their repentance will be readily accepted. 

Much of the language of repentance in the Torah is written in the plural form and speaks collectively to the Children of Israel. But the teshuva spoken of at this time of year is attainable for all individuals as well, as it says in Deuteronomy 30:2, “And you (singular) shall return to the Lord your God and hearken to His voice.” In this verse, the use of the singular is significant, reminding every Jew that teshuva is within his/her personal reach. 

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