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Kabbalists have practiced teshuvah for centuries as a way of repenting and clearing the slate so they can invite more positivity and blessings into their lives. It is something we can do any time we recognize that we have wronged someone or acted in a way that is less than kind and compassionate. Yet, as we approach Rosh Hashanah, we can all use teshuvah as a way to reflect and prepare for the most important spiritual days of the year: the High Holidays.
The month of Virgo (Elul) opens with Rosh Hashanah, which also corresponds to the first week of Creation. Kabbalists explain that each day represents a “mini” lifetime. Each day our souls are judged by our actions, which then alters how the following day unfolds. Reactivity, of course, is part of human nature. Still, our mission is to end each day feeling as if we have taken advantage of every opportunity to reveal the Light of the Creator.
The Hebrew word averah, which comes from a root word meaning "to give over," is mistakenly translated as "sin." Therefore, many people believe this month, and the holiday of Rosh Hashanah is a time to repent for one’s sins. However, Kabbalah teaches when a person acts selfishly, their soul loses sparks of Light. Through the process of teshuvah, we can get those sparks of Light back. Teshuvah allows us to go back in time to uproot and transform any negative seeds we've planted, allowing us the opportunity to rewrite the script for the following days.
This work of teshuvah can feel overwhelming, but Michael Berg shares that we all have the ability to truly do the work, no matter how difficult it may seem. He states, “The Zohar says many times that ‘man is a small world,’ meaning our creation is an aspect of everything that is in this world. We're made up of all the spiritual and physical aspects of this world, which means that we're made up of teshuvah, as well. If teshuvah was an aspect that was there before the creation of this world, and it was injected into all creation, it means that we all have the power to change and the ability to cleanse already within us.”
There are four phases to the process of teshuvah. Start by taking a moment at the end of your day to recount and write down as many instances of negative, reactive, or selfish actions as you can remember.
Go back in time to each moment of reactive behavior. Experience the feeling again, completely putting yourself back in the situation. Check each response of the ego; did you feel judgment, the need to control, anger, hatred, pride, laziness, or procrastination?
You can use the Vav Hey Vav from the 72 Names to help you go back in time.
Feel the pain you caused your own soul, others, and the collective consciousness of the world by your actions. One way to truly feel the pain is to imagine the consequences of your reactive actions.
Michael Berg explains, “Even when we did the most negative of actions, in all of those places, the Creator was with us, because He saw our perfected self when we did not. We need to go back to that place and realize that the Creator was there, and created for us such a scenario where we imagined darkness, imagined He was not there, and therefore, allowed ourselves to fall.”
Recreate the same scene, but this time go through the motions as if you were completely proactive. Imagine what your consciousness and words would be. What you would feel if you took initiation, practiced restriction, shared, and engaged in proactive behavior?
Doing each of the previous steps completely and with an honest heart, spiritually alters the prior negative actions.
Use the Yud Lamed Yud from the 72 Names to bring sparks of Light back into your life.
Once you have taken accountability for the actions that distanced you from the Light of your own soul, and have made a sincere commitment to move forward and make new choices, it is time to forgive yourself. It is crucial that you incorporate forgiveness into your process, as self-love and acceptance are the foundation of transformation. Our ability to forgive ourselves also strengthens our ability to extend forgiveness to others.
Karen Berg shares that, "We are all clay in the potter’s hand and have been put in exactly the right place at exactly the right time so that we may eventually fulfill our destinies." With this in mind, we understand that mistakes, be it by ourselves or others, are a necessary part of our process. Mistakes are not meant to be the source of shame or resentment; they exist to help us grow.
Now, make a steadfast promise that you will never commit that action again. Imagine how the next couple of days, months, or years of your life will be different as a result of your commitment. This final step ensures that you actually create lasting change.
“This consciousness is a level where a person transforms not from fear of the consequences of his actions,” explains Rav Ashlag, “but from the tremendous love and excitement he feels towards his potential to reveal the Light of the Creator in this world. When we go through the process of spiritual correction with an awakening of love, not fear, even the worst actions that we would have done, or might have done, become Light.” It is essential to persevere with the consciousness that the potential to complete this work is already within us when going through our personal process of teshuvah. Indeed, the more kindness we show ourselves and others, the more Light we will yield.