Levels of T’shuvah

A teaching from Reb Zalman, z’l, as Yom Kippur comes this Tuesday night. It is taken from a wonderful pamphlet called Yom Kippur Kattan and the Cycles of T’shuvah (pp. 22-23) which can be found and purchased through the ALEPH Canada Web Site clicking here. The pamphlet is based on a lecture Reb Zalman gave recorded April 1999 and edited by Rabbi Daniel Siegel.
Blessings to all for a meaningful fast and g’mar chatima tova!


Imagine I’m going shopping in a mall. In the middle of the shopping, I get this feeling I have to do t’shuvah. The likelihood is it’s not going to be a lot of deep stuff that’s going to happen but it’s going to be like an action directive: “Zalman, that you don’t do.”

That’s like doing t’shuvah on the level of nefesh.

Let’s say I go somewhere on Thursday night and I still am embarrassed about that stupid remark I made to that person that hurt that person. I apologized for it, but really I’ll be making the same stupid mistake again if I don’t really check it out: was I trying to be clever? Was s/he the person I was talking to or was I talking to an imaginary other in my mind at that time when I said that?

This is the kind of level of t’shuvah that you would do on Thursday night

On erev Rosh Chodesh I want to see: Am I on track? Is this how I want to live my life? It isn’t likely that I’m going to be going into this every evening, or every night, or every week, but I’m checking out: once again I’m not taking enough rest time, once again I’m not walking enough. I mean I’m talking about my avayros, and each person has these things. Once again, I’ve been caught by my habit, by the workaholic, instead of going along with my “meditator,” or with my “servant of God,” and, I’ve gotten drawn in again.

I think that’s more a “once a month” thing to do.

I think for the question of where we are Yom Kippur, a lot depends on having lived the liturgical calendar, that’s what I want to say about the whole business. It was pointed out that most Jewish theologians aren’t Rabbis; they are people who don’t have synagogues, and the realization came to me regarding this is that it was because a Rabbi has to make up a new theology every week: For, tahzria-metzorah a Rabbi may do one theology and for ahchahray mot-kedosheem a different one, as if each week you have to find what the particular time is speaking to you. The theologian, on the other hand, is located in a kind of abstract time-space where s/he thinks about it forever and all times, living in a different way with time’s curves.

I have the feeling that as we now count s’firah [between Pesach and Shavuot] that’s another one of those examples of how the texture of time commands a different kind of consciousness and how you want to be. The target we have during this time is: “Will we be cleaned out from the top to the bottom by the time we come to Sinai? Are we going to be ready? And what will our questions be this year?” Heschel put it so beautifully: “The Torah is an answer, but we lost the questions.” So if you don’t have a good question when you come to Shavuos, then the likelihood is that you aren’t going to receive much Torah. A good way of preparing for that would be to keep a journal, if you will, for the s’firah time.

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