Risking Tshuva

By Yehudit Channen

The hardest emotion of all is shame. In grief, in anger, and even in fear there can exist some dignity, a sense of one’s self that is outside the emotion. But shame is viciously self-centered and can make a person writhe in humiliation, mortification, and a desire to escape one’s very self. It's agony, plain and simple, and people will fight to the death to prevent or escape it.

So for many people, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur cause tremendous anxiety because it's facing the things that make us most ashamed of ourselves.

For people who grew up with punitive parents who were big on shaming, the concept of tshuva can have little appeal.

Many people have had an early experience of apologizing to someone who was not impressed, appeased or appreciative. Some people were made to apologize for things that weren’t their fault. Sometimes, instead of being forgiven they were rebuked again or told that the apology wasn’t good enough or that it was too late or too little or that they were not sincere.

For others, admitting faults or mistakes was a sign of weakness which was itself a source of shame.

Therefore tshuva can be fraught with a lot of bad connotations and that is a real obstacle to growth.

Besides that, many people have never truly forgiven anyone. They may move on but carry resentment and hurt for a lifetime, neither forgiving nor forgetting. So its nearly impossible to imagine how God could forgive.

What works for me is to picture one of my kids taking the time to come to my house to tell me that I am the greatest Mom ever, that he loves me and acknowledges all that I do for him and that he is very sorry for hurting himself or a sibling because he ignored my advice. He tells me he regrets what he did and commits to acting differently in the future. He informs me that he has also made amends to the person he hurt.

Would I forgive him? If I know my son is sincere, my forgiveness will be swift and complete.

Not only will I forgive him, but I will take great pride and joy in the fact that my son is brave enough to face himself, admit wrongdoing, clean it up and change his ways. That would bring me tremendous pride and would bring us closer as well.

One of the most intimate things in the world is allowing someone you care about to see your vulnerability. It is the ultimate emotional risk and it can feel sacrificial in the sense that you have offered yourself up with no defenses. For those who have been shamed as children it can actually feel dangerous and requires great courage.

Maybe that’s why we have to be told over and over that we won’t be rejected, that Hashem is so eager to clear things up that He is “in the fields during Elul” ready to meet us halfway.

The Days of Awe are when we address the elephant in the room and for those that have ever done it, it can be a relief beyond imagining and a way to dissemble the wall that has built up during the course of a relationship. But it does take trust and a gamble.

We are told that tshuva is very close to us which means that it is much easier than we think. We are encouraged in so many ways, in holy sefarim and by our teachers and Rabbis who insist that its worth it to give tshuva a chance. We will feel better about ourselves, our lives, our fellow Jews and our connection to God. Sounds like the jackpot.

God will not shame, scorn or ridicule us when we admit that He was right and we were wrong. He is not a fragile ego that needs us to squirm so He can feel powerful. He knows He holds all the cards.

He is God, who loves us the way we love our children, only more so. God is “normal” not dysfunctional. We can trust him with our confusion, our neediness, our foolishness and our fear. He is delighted by our tshuva and helps us always to do it right.

Hashem is the perfect parent. He is holy. And we can safely tell Him who we are.


About the author

Yehudit Channen is an Emunah Therapist/Writer who has worked for many years in the mental health field, including marital mediation, eldercare and with youths at risk. She has led support groups for family care givers coping with aging parents and taught social skills groups for children. Mrs. Channen has conducted creative writing groups for the development of self-compassion and has written for various religious websites and magazines including Aish, Breslev, Bina, Horizons and Ya'ated. She lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with her husband Rabbi Don Channen. Mrs. Channen is blessed with many children and grandchildren.