The following are selections from Jewish literature about Teshuvah (lit. return, turning, response), the primary occupation of the Jew in the month of Elul beginning Saturday night, August 11, 2018). This is the Hebrew month preceding the High Holidays and the month of Tishrei. There are 40 days from Elul 1 to Tishrei 10 (Yom Kippur) the same amount of time that Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving Torah.

“Teshuvah is a manifestation of the divine in each human being… Teshuvah means “turning about,” “turning to,” “response” [based on the Hebrew root – shin-vav-bet – return to God, to Judaism, return to community, return to family, return to “self”… Teshuvah reaches beyond personal configurations – it is possible for someone to return who “was never there” – with no memories of a Jewish way of life…Judaism isn’t personal but a historical heritage… Teshuvah is a return to one’s own paradigm, to the prototype of the Jewish person…The act of teshuvah is a severance of the chain of cause and effect in which one wrong follows inevitably upon another…The thrust of teshuvah is to break through the ordinary limits of the self…The significance of the past can only be changed at a higher level of teshuvah – called Tikun – tikun hanefesh – tikun olam…The highest level of teshuvah is reached when the change and correction penetrate the very essence of the sins once committed and create the condition in which a person’s transgressions become his/her merits.” (Gleaned from “Repentance” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz)

“Repentance must be preceded by the recognition of seven things: (1) The penitent must clearly recognize the heinousness of what one has done… (2) The penitent must be aware that one’s specific act was legally evil and ignominious… (3) The penitent must realize that retribution for one’s misdeed is inevitable… (4) The penitent must realize that one’s sin is noted and recorded in the book of a person’s iniquities… (5) The penitent must be fully convinced that repentance is the remedy for sickness and the road to recovery from evil deeds… (6) The penitent must conscientiously reflect upon the bounties the Creator had already bestowed, and how the penitent had rebelled against God instead of being grateful to the Eternal… (7) The penitent must strenuously persevere in keeping away from the evil to which s/he had been addicted and firmly resolve in her/his heart and mind to renounce it.” (Bachya ibn Pakuda, Duties of the Heart 7:3)

“One of the foundations of penitence, in human thought, is a person’s recognition of responsibility for one’s actions, which derives from a belief in humankind’s free will. This is also the substance of the confession that is part of the commandment of penitence, in which the person acknowledges that no other cause is to be blamed for one’s misdeed and its consequences but s/he the person alone.” (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook)

“For transgressions between one person and another, such as injury, cursing, stealing, and similar offenses, a person is never forgiven until that person gives the other what is owed, and pacifies him/her.” (Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:2)

“What is complete teshuvah? When one comes upon a situation in which one once transgressed, and it is possible to do so again, but the person refrains and doesn’t transgress on account of one’s repentance.” (Maimonides, Ibid 2:1)

“Rabbi Eliezer said, “Repent one day before your death.” His disciples asked him, “Does then one know on what day s/he will die?” “All the more reason s/he should repent today, lest s/he die tomorrow.” (Talmud, Shabbat 53a)

“One’s perspective is enlarged through penitence…All that seemed deficient, all that seemed ugly in the past, turns out to be full of majesty and grandeur as a phase of the greatness achieved through the progress of penitence… Moreover, it is necessary to identity the good that is embodied in the depth of evil and to strengthen it – with the very force wherewith one recoils from evil. Thus will penitence served as a force for good that literally transforms all the wrongdoings into virtues.” (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook)

“Rabbi Abbahu said, “In the place where penitents stand, even the wholly righteous cannot stand.” (Talmud, B’rachot 34b)