Today at services the rabbi noted that Parashat Nitzavim, always read during the week before Rosh Hashanah, contains many instances of the word "teshuvah." This intrigued the ancient rabbis (of course), who interpreted it as proof that teshuvah came before absolutely everything:
"Before the world was created... God began to trace (the foundations of) the world but it would not stand. They told a parable: To what is the matter like? To a king who wishes to build a palace for himself. If he had not traced the earth its foundation, its exits and entrances, he does not begin to build. Likewise the Holy One was tracing (the plans of) the world but it did not remain standing until God created repentance."
--Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, Chapter 3
And because teshuvah is elemental to our existence,
"Teshuvah is always present in our heart."
--Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Kook
OK, so we know that change is possible--but that doesn't mean we know how to make it happen. We are overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, or trapped by circumstance. One solution, suggested the rabbi, is to remember that we are creative beings. Every small choice and new idea is an act of teshuvah--of changing our current situation into a new one. Instead of feeling crushed by expectations at this time of year, we can parse them into smaller pieces and keep in mind that we are not passive observers of our own lives--that the imperative to do, act, and change is built into us all.
These were very comforting words to hear this morning. Again, as every year, I feel woefully unprepared to face the truth of how I missed the mark. I fear I will pretend to look God in the eye while sweeping everything under the psychic rug, so to speak. I am annoyed: with a friend who let me down, with myself for hiding and procrastinating. I am afraid: for the world, for a friend's aunt who just had a stroke, for the 1% chance that I'll catch a cold between now and Tuesday. I am in good company: with everyone else facing the fact this Rosh Hashanah that they're human, and change is really hard.
I agree that we live by small steps, and they all count. I like the idea that our very nature is to move forward. I pray that the energy of a few hundred people in a room thinking and singing about how to do this will give us all the strength to take two steps when we thought only one was possible.