The Teshuvah – repentance process is fundamental to parenting and teaching. I would even say that the quality of any book on Chinuch, education and parenting is dependent on how many times the word Teshuvah is mentioned
As Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment approaches, we read in this week's portion Devarim /Nitzavim 30:2 about repentance – Te'shuvah, ' and you will return unto Hashem, your God and listen to his voice'.
The Jerusalem Talmud asks 'what is the punishment to be done to the sinner '? Wisdom replies that sin pursues bad experiences. Prophecy replies that the soul that sins should die. God replies that the sinner should repent and return to him. In this way he atones for his sins.
Although one should repent everyday of one's life, the month of Elul that proceeds Rosh Hashanah, and Rosh Hashanah till Yom Kippur is the most opportune time to repent. The focus in Elul is improving ourselves and cleansing ourselves for Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur is the time when we deal with the past. We verbalize and admit our sins = vi'dui, express regret, remorse and commit ourselves not to repeat them. Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment and we anoint God to be our king and subject ourselves to his authority.
Should we not first deal with our sins, admit what we did wrong and ask for forgiveness - the Yom Kippur process - and only then approach the heavenly court to be judged by God?
Shouldn't Yom Kippur come before Rosh Hashanah?
A second question revolves around discussion and opinions amongst the commentators whether Repentance- Teshuvah is a voluntary / optional commandment or are we obliged to repent and do Teshuvah. The Ma'haral from Prague quotes the Talmud that God considers the person who does Teshuvah as having offered a ' voluntary ' sacrifice. He explains that since the sinner no longer sees himself as subject to God's authority and decrees, his decision to repent and to return unto Hashem, is considered by God as if he has in an autonomous and voluntary way 'returned' to God. And for this God is extremely grateful.
The two views - the commandment –mitzvah of Teshuvah is an obligation or a voluntary/optional commandment maybe reconciled by Rabbi David Lapin's explanation of the teshuvah obligation. Objectively speaking we have an obligation to repent and do Te'shuvah, subjectively speaking God considers our actions as autonomous and intrinsically motivated.
The Teshuvah associated with Rosh Hashanah focuses on our intrinsic motivation and relationship with God. We come before God as people who have changed from the inside, intrinsically motivated driven by a new vision of ourselves. We are not the same people. Our purpose is to willingly redefine our relationship with God. We anoint and make God our king and subject ourselves to his divine commandments and guidance.
In order to create a new vision, says Rabbi David Lapin, we must sever ourselves from the past, because if we are still tied to our pasts, our pasts will hold us back and limit the extent of the vision we want for ourselves. We first create a future and then deal with the past. We first have an Elul and Rosh Hashanah and then a Yom Kippur. But ,if we don't deal with the past , the past will catch up with us. Once we have a new vision of ourselves, we are in a position to reflect on our past with completely different lenses, and this leads to having more remorse and a deeper commitment never to repeat these sins. Without Teshuvah saying' sorry' is mere lipservice . Once we have given deep expression to these feelings of remorse and regret on Yom Kippur we can move on in the knowledge that we have been forgiven and are new people happy with our new appreciation of life and our relationship with God.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are primarily concerned about our accountability to our creator for what we have done over the past year. Torah accountability is doing Teshuvah in an autonomous way and repenting. It is coming up with a better plan, solving problems and creating a new vision of ourselves and then dealing with the past by engaging in an autonomous way in the moral act of reparation and restitution. The outcomes are improved relationships between people, each other and God and a feeling that we are good people.
. When we talk about accountability in the context of politics and business, we hear about the need to be accountable and pay the price for failure or inappropriate behavior by resigning or serving a criminal sentence. Accountability for kids is then just another reason for dishing out more punishments and consequences.
When our kids and students don't meet our expectations, we must remember that instead of traditional discipline and punishment , we have a duty to support their autonomy and guide them to do 'Te'shuvah. This means participating together with kids in CPS – collaborative problem solving process and allowing kids in an autonomous way to engage in the moral act of restitution and making amends. The litmus test -does the child feel self-directed , joy and simcha in doing Teshuvah, has a new vision for himself and has the relationship and trust with my kid or student been enhanced.
'In an illuminating passage from her book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson explained that a teacher can make it clear to students that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still care[s] about them and [is] not going to punish or desert them, even [if they do] something very bad.” This posture allows “their best motives to surface,” thus giving “space and support for them to reflect and to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong. “If we want our students to trust that we care for them,” she concludes, “then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return. It’s not that we don’t want and expect certain behaviors; we do. But our concern or affection does not depend on it.” - from Beyond Discipline – A Kohn
If we want kids to engage in Teshuvah, we as parents or teachers have to choose between a focus on discipline or teshuvah.
The lesson of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that ' Accountability ' is not about paying the price of failure or making mistakes. It is an internal and intrinsic process. It is about learning from mistakes, creating a new vision for oneself, changing from the inside, engaging in the moral act of restitution and making things right. It is about peace,reconciliation and connection between man and God and man and man, man and his children and a teacher and his students.