Returning, the act of looking around, turning around, and choosing a different direction, is one of the hardest things that we can do. In my own experience, I find that there are two particular factors that make teshuva difficult:
- trusting that I can make the changes I want and need to make
- trusting that G-d will forgive and bless me, despite my shortcomings
I guess, really, the one aspect of teshuva that leaves me feeling the most insecure, is trust. Can I really do this? Can I really change?
The letter below is from my great uncle, Yaakov Cohen, z”l. It reminds me what teshuva is all about – a return to faith. When Uncle Yaakov wrote this letter, I was only a month old. Twenty two years later, when I read it for the first time, I was astounded…he had so much faith in me at that age, before I ever proved to be capable of anything! He knew what potential I had long before I did.
Trust requires believing in potential…not letting fear get in the way of becoming the versions of ourselves we can be. There will be times when we second guess and wonder, am I cut out for this? Do I have what it takes? Look back. Look for that person, those people, who when they looked at one-month old You, saw a soul that would impact this world in a deeply positive way.
Though I do not have the dollar bill mentioned in the letter, thank G-d, I have the essence of what my Uncle Yaakov wanted me to pass on to the next generation: Shabbat and Teshuva.
I thought to myself, what gift – what kind of gift – I could give to the newcomer to our family, Eliana Ahuva…I was at a loss as to what gift to get her. Our rabbis tell us that at the Binding of Isaac, G-d saw the Mesorah (teaching) from Abraham to Isaac, of the transfer from generation to generation of Yiddishkeit. And this was done with me; my parents taught me to be a Jew. When Daddy [my great-grandfather, Shmuel Zvi Cohen] passed, I received certain artifacts that belonged to him. One of these things was his Tikkun, the tree of life. I received it already old and covered with a brown paper bag, and taped to hold it together. This is what he loved.
One some pages were markings which I don’t understand their meaning….As I turn through the parshiot, I felt as if I was passing through the yearly reading as Dad had done. On page 333 I found three dollar bills, the page of Haftarat Shabbat Shuva.
We Jews like to play with numbers. Yes, three Forefathers, but Dad had a three of his own – his children. So he placed in his Torah, the valued book of spirituality, three dollars, three children of gashmiyut at the point of Shabbat and Teshuva [like Shuva]. Pretty strong stuff.
So he left us with a sign to teach us that Torah combined with valued things in the material world can lead us to Teshuva and Shabbat – return to the faith. We can all use such examples.
Mesorah means the passing of one’s faith to child or student. So, Eliana Ahuva, I am giving you one of the dollar bills so that you can pass it on to your children from a great-great grandfather.