תִּקְע֣וּ בַחֹ֣דֶשׁ שׁוֹפָ֑ר בַּ֜כֶּ֗סֶה לְי֣וֹם חַגֵּֽנוּ
Sound the shofar on the New Moon, on the appointed time for the day of our festival. -Psalms 81:4
Unlike what is usually suggested, Maimonides, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, does not see the shofar as a call from man to God, but as a call from God to man. God asks us to rid ourselves of external pressures and make internal changes, to correct our character.
We achieve this through Teshuva, a word that we usually translate as "repentance," but which is really more than that. Teshuva comes from the same root as the Hebrew word "lashuv," which means "to return."
Where do we return to or seek to return to? Once again, it's Rambam, the famous Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah, who helps us with a summary of the Teshuvah process in 4 steps:
1. Hakarat hahet: We must first recognize that we have acted wrongly. We need to forget about blaming others and introspect without trying to absolve ourselves, whether knowingly or unknowingly. We should delve into our consciousness and see if we may have hurt others, those around us. We should review our behavior as Jews, perhaps our commitment to our community and communal tasks. In any case, without recognizing our faults, there can be no repentance or forgiveness.
2. Tikun: If you have the great peace of mind that you haven't caused harm to your fellow beings, and your behavior was correct, this step is not for you. Generally, during the year, we may inadvertently step on someone's foot (bishgaga) or have understood that someone deserved treatment that may have been unjust. Tikun is about repairing the harm. It doesn't matter if it's material or related to an attitude or specific action. It doesn't matter, again, whether it was intentional or if it was done without awareness, and we only realized the reaction of our affected fellow being. Even if it was an offense, the point is to make amends. Have the courage to confront the person you need to confront, starting with yourself, and take responsibility for the harm, whatever it may be and the cost of repairing it.
Remember that it's not about asking God for the damages that affected humans; they are reconciled with the Creator the affronts we may have had with Him (bein adam la Makom); they are reconciled with our fellow beings, those we had on Earth (bein adam le chavero).
3. Vidui: Within the Teshuva process, the most important Mitzvah of Yom Kippur is Vidui or confession. In fact, it's what we do throughout our Shabbat Shabaton. During our Yom Kippur prayers, we verbalize a list of mistakes so that we don't "forget" any, and so we don't suddenly realize that we may have missed one inadvertently.
While as Jews, we don't have the practice of "confession" in the same way as Christianity does, private recognition, primarily, and communal recognition during prayer, is the way our tradition suggests that we not overlook and become aware that there is recognition we must make. The sound of the shofar is what awakens us from the lethargy to which daily activities subject us and lull us into a state of review.
4. Azibat hahet: The definitive change. All the previous steps are of no use if after completing them step by step, we repeat the mistake or become negligent again and commit the same fault. There is only a correction of the error when the same situation is repeated, and you can choose a different path than the one taken before. The final test of sincere Teshuva is change.
The challenge of Yom Kippur is to bring about that change. Change behaviors, control impulses, improve our relationships and reactions; chart a different path so as not to fall into the same error.
As we studied together in the Thursday Torah class at 6:30 PM (that was an advertisement), the Torah contains two distinct narratives of the creation of man. The first narrative shows humans as part of the natural order, as a species. In the second, it speaks of individuals, Adam and Eve, capable of feeling loneliness, love, and having needs and reactions that define the character of the individual.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in his essay 'The Lonely Man of Faith' stated that the reason the Torah does this is that there are two basic elements that distinguish us for who we are. There is the man of the first Creation, the king of Creation, for whom everything was created, the sole owner of language, the creature capable of distinguishing tools, who is above all forms of life, capable of creating great scientific and technological advancements, either improving or destroying the world without even being conscious of it. However, there is also the man of the second Creation, who is understood to be the same, the one who makes a covenant, whose personality is defined through the relationships established with other people and with God. He is sensitive to his fellow beings and reacts, either positively or negatively, depending on his perception and choice.
The King of Creation has skills that he could include in a resume, while the man of the covenant, the man of the Torah, possesses virtues such as humility, gratitude, integrity, joy, the desire to serve, and make sacrifices in the name of greater ideals.
We are both. Both created beings coexist within us, and inevitably, we must define ourselves to guide our being and our world in a direction that does not lead to destruction.
According to Maimonides, that's what Judaism is all about, strengthening character through concrete actions we call mitzvot and the way of life we call halacha. This is where Judaism is enriching and transformative.
The shofar, our liturgy, the entire month of Elul, and these Days of Awe that we begin to traverse today all call upon us, through the penetrating and disturbing sound of the shofar, to achieve the 4 steps of Teshuva and to take responsibility for the two created beings that we carry within us to lead better lives in an improved world. As always, Tikun Olam.
Le Shana Tova Tikatevu ve Techatemu.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet, and meaningful year.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier