In the Torah portions that are read every year right around Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Moshe shares with the Jewish people his heartfelt words about returning to holiness no matter how far we have drifted, and how the Almighty is always there to “have mercy on you” and “gather you in”.
It is interesting to note that the word for repentance is Teshuva which means “returning”, as if we going back to a place that we have already once been. No matter where on the spiritual ladder we find ourselves, whether we are struggling with bad behavior or striving to reach new spiritual heights, it is always a process of returning.
This is because, in truth, we are really not creating anything new. We are returning to a place deep inside us, to that inner still voice that constantly drives us to reach our potential and to be a better version of ourselves. And when we get there, we discover that it really isn’t new at all. It feels like we belong, that this is really who we are.
Teshuva begins by identifying the areas of life that are the most challenging for us. The great Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin was well-known for his teaching that the areas that a person struggles most, those are the areas that he is destined for greatness if he chooses to put in the effort. For example, while we all struggle with a number of flaws in our character, an individual might feel that they have an overload of one specific negative trait that haunts them more than other traits, and more than other people. In this area we fall again and again, and it seems that there is no shortage of triggers for this behavior. It is quite likely that this specific trait is somehow intertwined with our mission in the world and it is through working on this specific trait that we will accomplish our purpose in this world.
This is the time of year when we decide which of our struggles are we ready to focus on, to transform them and elevate them to a place of holiness.
If we look deeply at the areas that we constantly struggle, we can come to understand new aspects of our personality; what triggers us to act in this way, what are the necessary steps to avoid confrontation with the issue and how to shake off the dust after we have fallen. The struggle itself becomes our threshold to a higher spiritual awareness, a meeting point between us and the Almighty. And, sometimes, we discover that the weakness itself is the key to discovering our greatness.