I’m a little uneasy
And there ain’t much pride inside me
She don’t know how it hurts
And I’m telling you
It’s too late now
She’s just not the same
It’s too late now,
It’s a crying shame
As we approach Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the issue of Teshuva is foremost on our minds. Teshuva is often translated as Repentance, but in truth it means Return. Return to what we know is true and good. Return to what is meaningful for our soul, to our true selves and ultimately returning to God.
King Solomon writes, כִּי אָדָם אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא “There is no such thing as a completely righteous person anywhere who does only good and never sins.” Everyone does wrong at some time or another. We all have our faults. We do not live up to our potential on many levels. Given this simple truth, the only question that remains is what can we do to rectify the wrongs we have done? And how much can they indeed be fixed?
According to Jewish tradition there are three key components necessary in the process of Teshuva. There must be (a) regret of the wrong, (b) a verbal confession and (c) a commitment to discontinue the erroneous behavior.
But even with doing all that, the issue still persists: What exactly are we trying to accomplish? Is this some sort of magical formula to assuage our guilt? Can we ever go back to what it was like before the wrong act? Can we regain the purity or “paradise lost” after the sin? For example, if a person commits a theft, will that person ever be the same as if they never stole in the first place? If one was unfaithful to one’s spouse, will the relationship ever be the same? Can it ever be the same?
To be clear, some mistakes are indeed minor in the larger scheme of things. For those, we may very well get back to our original place. If someone stole a towel from a hotel, you can send it back or maybe financially reimburse the company (I recall a guy in my yeshiva days who did just that). After feeling the necessary sense of shame, you can pretty much forget about it, if you indeed made a solid commitment not to do it again. It was a slight lapse and was easily rectified.
On the other hand, there are some actions that make an indelible mark on us forever. They alter the course of our life, sending it into a completely new direction than we could never have anticipated. The above mentioned unfaithful spouse or the husband who slapped or hit his wife did indeed change the relationship forever. No matter how much regret and apologizing he or she may do, no matter how many promises never to do it again, the relationship will never be the same. It cannot be the same – this is a simple fact of life.
In these circumstances the goal is not to try to retrieve what once was because that is forever gone. No, the goal must now be to rebuild an alternative scenario of what could be. There is a reconstruction process given the new reality created from the repercussions of the wrong that was done. There has to be a Plan B now that the original structure has been broken. Plan A is no more.
That may sound like a downer but don’t get depressed because we all live with all sorts of Plan B’s in our lives. And the fact of the matter is that most of history is dominated by Plan B. Adam and Eve were to have lived eternally in the Garden of Eden but they didn’t listen to God’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and were thrown out. Plan B has been in effect ever since. The Israelites were supposed to have entered into the Land of Israel soon after receiving the Torah at Sinai, but instead wandered for forty years – not the Plan A that God had in mind. There was not supposed to be the destruction of our Temples and Jerusalem falling into foreign hands. The Jewish nation was not supposed to be scattered to the four corners of the globe, but this is what happened in our history and in some ways we are all the better for it.
All of us have our failings. Things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would for each and every one of us. We all live with disappointments, missed opportunities and foolish choices. Things have happened to us from outside parties of which we had no choice in the matter, that we didn’t want nor would we ever have imagined – but such is life.
On the other hand – equally and maybe even moreso – new paths have opened up from those Plan B’s and given us gifts we could never have anticipated. So while our lives went down alleyways that we never expected, at the same time we are in some amazing places that we never could have imagined.
Yom Kippur offers us the opportunity to put everything aside – even our most basic needs of eating and drinking – and to look at our lives, see where we erred, regret our actions and commit not to repeat them. But more than that, to reassess, appreciate and do the best we can with the new realities of the Plan B’s in our lives.
It is a wonderful thing that God has built into the fabric of Creation – that we can still fully enjoy life, taste its sweetness, smell its fragrance and realize our potential, even the alternative potentials that we made or that were created for us in ways that we would never have thought.
What was Plan A supposed to be? I don’t know and frankly, who cares? Because no matter what we have done, no matter what “sins” we have committed and no matter how others may have affected us in ways we would not choose or want, an Infinite God created a world with infinite possibilities. A myriad of scenarios that offers infinite good, endless pleasure and deep meaning no matter which path we ended up on. Yom Kippur gives us the chance to experience that. To celebrate the Plan B’s that our lives have become.
Anytime is the right time
To get on with a new tomorrow