Rabbis on TV program to discuss repentance

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Although many Jews designate Yom Kippur as the day to contemplate and repent for sins committed throughout the year, the process of tshuvah (the act of repentance) actually begins almost six weeks earlier.

Tshuvah serves as a reminder that one must be aware of relationships with others, ourselves and God, notes Rabbi Alan Lew of Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco. During this period the shofar is blown daily (with the exception of Shabbat), to awaken people and prepare them spiritually.

Lew will host a discussion of tshuvah for the show "Mosaic" on KPIX-TV Channel 5 at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 15. He will be joined by Rabbi Howard Zack of Oakland's Orthodox Congregation Beth Jacob and Rabbi Stacy Laveson of Reform Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael.

"Tshuvah is the essential act of the High Holy Days," explained Zack .

"Before there were self-help books, there was tshuvah," he quipped. On a more serious note, he said, "We must recognize our faults and admit them to ourselves."

Laveson said she finds one interpretation of the process — that of returning to humanity or making a mindful effort to improve one's interactions with others — particularly significant.

"We must make a conscious effort to change. Before God can forgive us and before we can find inner spiritual peace, we are instructed to ask forgiveness from the person we offended," she explained.

Like most Jewish rituals, there is a prescribed process for tshuvah which begins with verbalizing one's sins, or vidui. "We must articulate our acknowledgment of the wrong and let our inner intentions out to the world," said Laveson. "To gain our atonement we must confess as if we were on our deathbeds; we must clear up unfinished business."

"The Rambam (Moses Maimonides) has outlined the four-step process: recognition, remorse, resolve and return," explained Zack. "We must recognize what we should or should not have done, show our remorse by our efforts, resolve within ourselves to correct them, and then return by asking God and individuals for their forgiveness.

"It is like a spiral, only you return on a higher plane."

Tshuvah can be a trying process and that is why six weeks are needed to prepare ourselves before entering the synagogue, said Lew. "It is hard to reflect on a year's worth of experiences in one day."

The rabbis offer several suggestions on how to better prepare for Yom Kippur, including keeping a journal.

"Approach God with sincerity," Lew recommends.

The rabbis also view tshuvah as both a solo and community act. Although we must first attempt to improve ourselves, Laveson explained, we can depend on the strength of others to help, and that is why we pray in a communal fashion.

"Although tshuvah is getting us ready for the High Holy Days, it should also be providing us with wisdom and insight that we will hold onto all year round, making us better people as we prepare to be sealed in the book of life," Lew said.