on teshuvah and the things we give up

I am “supposed” to be working this morning. I will get to it. Now, being Shabbat, it is most important for me to spend time self-reflecting. We are in the Ten Days of Repentance, the time beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur. This time is important, an opportunity to practice Teshuvah (literally: “returning” or “repentance”), in which we have an explicit time to acknowledge and feel regret for our misdeeds, change our behavior, and verbally express our sins. New to the study of Judaism, I acknowledge that I have much to learn about the Ten Days of Repentance and Teshuvah. That said, to me the act of repentance, change, and acknowledgement of sin seems to me an opportunity to become closer to oneself and, in doing so, closer to G-d.

In my experience, when I live with the weight of a sin- whether that be against myself or another person- I am most apt to do so silently. For example, I am a recovering bulimic, which for me means that I struggle with thoughts of self-doubt. It is normal for me to make negative comments about myself. This behavior is self-sabotaging and counter to the Jewish celebration of life above all else. I believe that my bulimia is counter to celebrating life because my bulimic thought (which views the body/soul as “less-than”) leads to behavior which treats my body/soul as “less-than” and, to me, that is life-taking. Yet, because I feel shame about these bulimic thoughts and behaviors, these sins against myself, I oft carry them alone. Unfortunately, when I bury those thoughts/feelings about sin within myself they manifest into sadness. I feel insular, removed from my community, less-than, and separate from G-d.

Practicing Teshuvah gives me the opportunity to hold the sins I commit against myself and others, feel the sorrow and regret, and remember that despite these sins, I am still enough. I am still a good human being. I am still loved by, protected by and one with G-d. And, then, in giving up my self-blame and sorrow, I can work to make amends, to myself, to G-d, to others I have sinned against. And, then, I can change.

I had a roommate in college, Jamila, who, upon the turn of the calendar New Year, once said that her resolution was to “do better”. Her words have stuck with me throughout the years. Being a trauma survivor and a bulimic, I have patterns of self-preservation that I have been practicing for years. These techniques are definitely coping mechanism, yet sometimes they’re not always healthy: like bingeing and purging. In shul this week, as we studied the Torah portion on Rosh Hashanah, a fellow congregant was reminded of a study about changing behavior. She noted that changing behavior doesn’t come through the thinking that one will change nor from the desire to change, but from the small acts of change. That, in order to change, we have to create new neural pathways that reinforce the thoughts behind the behavior. New behavior is never automatic. It takes work. It takes “doing better” over and over and over again.

While I spend time praying on and practicing Teshuvah this week, I know that it’s not going to produce a miraculous change. I am not going to not be bulimic overnight. I know I’m not going to fix all of my sins with a prayer. I’m not supposed to. I am supposed to work at it- to give up my fear of being seen as “wrong”, to give up my shame of being “less-than”, to give up my practice of being alone in my sinning, and to give myself up to G-d.

And, I get to rejoice in this practice. Through Teshuvah, I am asked to look at the darkest, most difficult parts of myself and my behavior. But, I do this with the intent to be closer to fulfilling G-d’s mitzvot; to recognize G-d within myself and around my self. I get to bring joy to this practice of self-reflection and repentance. I get to elevate Teshuvah into Simcha – a joyous occasion: the beautiful opportunity to be honest, to be forgiving, and to be closer to my self and to G-d. Through Teshuvah, I can do better.


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