“t’shuvah can be read as toshuv hei . the lower hei of G’d’s Name is manifest in our world. through t’shuvah we elevate and return the hei and everything it energizes to its true source”
so teaches R’ Schneur Zalman in Tanya (Iggeret haTeshuvah, ch4). if you remember your roots, you will recognize that toshuv hei is a returning hei, one that is leant us by G’d from G’d’s very name to energize us. this, of course, makes t’shuvah very personal, for who would not be eager to return a tool to the lender? particularly if the lending of part of a good name…indeed, the very best name…is part of the value in the borrowing? Elul is the month in which we strive to make right things between adam and adam. often that means nothing more complicated than taking stock of what you have and taking time to return what is borrowed, or to pay any outstanding debts, or simply to restore a relationship broken to a fixed state by taking time to apologise for wrongs and setting things aright.
it is all return….restoration….recompense…realization….and, well, revolution. revolution? yup. t’shuvah is nothing shy of spinning and also overturning of habits and paths and violations….we should end up reborn. at very least we should be revolting against what we have been, even if the revolution is more of a restoration. let’s consider a story related by R’ Menachem Mendel Futerfas, chabad mashpia (“person of influence’) in the former soviet union, who spent 14 years in the siberian gulags for the ‘crime’ of establishing cheders (‘jewish elementary schools’, essentially) for young jews in the USSR. upon leaving russia finally, he settled in as mashpia of the central lubavitch yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel. he relates his own encounter with a former tightrope walker while they were in the gulag together….
the rabbi asked the tightrope walker about the secret to his art. “what does a person need to master to be a tight rope walker? balance? stamina? concentration?”
the tightrope walker’s answer surprised him: ” the secret is always keeping your destination in focus. you have to keep your eyes on the other end of the rope. but do you know what the hardest part is?”
“when you get to the middle?” the rabbi suggested.
“no,” said the tightrope walker, “it’s when you make the turn. because for a fraction of a second, you lose sight of your destination. when you don’t have sight of your destination, that is when you are most likely to fall.”
now is a time of turning for all of us (sharper for some than for others perhaps), and none of us is able to perfectly see where we are headed…so we must be tightly focused on the destination that we know in our soul is ultimately ahead, even though out of view. the ultimate return is redemption.
t’shuvah is to redemption as shabbat is to the world to come
but the path of redemption for our People, and for the world, is not a straight road that we can look down to its end. we can only glimpse glitters of the end by looking into our own souls as we work at our individual turning back to G’d. your focus in t’shuvah is a focus on personal mission….and not just your mission, but your shared mission….shared with haShem to whom you return. the stronger your sense of personal mission, the better off you will be when the going gets rough. every moment of Elul can be (should be) directed toward your mission of return, and because t’shuvah isn’t something you do just once a year, but rather a way of living in Creation, everything you do in Elul and after should be dedicated to your mission in life.
so here is the practicum: what is your mission in life? what do you think your calling in the world is?
if this is a difficult exercise for you, then try to focus on what steps you will have to take to FIND your mission in life!