Rabbi Simcha Bunam distinguishes between sincere and insincere teshuvah. What might this mean for us?
Rabbi Bunam was asked: “Why was the scene of worshipping the golden calf forgiven though we do not find it said in the Scriptures that the people turned and did penance and why was the sin of the spies not forgiven although we read that the people mourned greatly because of it? Do we not know that there is nothing which can resist the turning?”
He replied: “This is the nature of turning: When a man knows he has nothing to hope for and feels like a shard of clay because he has upset the order of life, and how can that which was upset be righted again? Nevertheless, though he has no hope, he prepares to serve God from that time on and does so. This is the true turning and nothing can resist it. That is how it was with the sin of worshipping the golden calf. It was the first sin and people knew nothing of the power of turning and so they turned with all their heart. But it was different with the sin of the spies. The people already knew what turning can accomplish, and they thought that if they did penance they would return to their former state; so they did not turn with all their hearts, and their turning accomplished nothing.
Simcha Bunam of Pzhysha d. 1827
M. Buber Tales of the Hasidim Vol 2 p262
As we move through the month of Elul we have the opportunity to work on ourselves, in the hope that we might begin a new year ready to make changes and to be the person we feel we could be. At Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of the world, and as we begin 5780 we know that our actions are increasingly not only impacting on our ‘environment’ (as if we ourselves were somehow detached from it) but changing and endangering our futures in the world.
This Elul, therefore, Reform Judaism is focussing on what wisdom and reflection Judaism can offer us, and encourage us in the changes necessary to make a difference in the upcoming year. Though we begin with ourselves, we do not end with ourselves. The changes we make, in our attitudes, understanding and behaviour affect all around us – our families, communities, our work place, the organisations we belong to, the government and the world itself. It begins with us.
The texts and reflections for this series have been drawn together by Rabbi Jeffrey Newman and Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, together with members of the Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors who are credited individually when appropriate. Reflecting together and learning in partnership has made this a much more meaningful process for us, and if you have the time and someone willing, we hope these texts might also provide a wonderful opportunity for learning with a partner (or chavruta). As Pirkei Avot 1:6 says “make for yourself a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend”.