I think of teshuvah a bit backwards.
I know we are supposed to make teshuvah – a turning of the soul – and then experience forgiveness. But for me it works the other way around. Turning follows fore-give-ness.
I find myself astounded, sometimes, at the give in the universe: the miracle by which we survive an accident, risky surgery, or close call; the soul mate we discover in a city of millions; the lessons we learn when things don’t go our way and what we really wished for would have proven a disaster. There are, of course, plenty of people for whom these situations don’t work out so well – but that’s just the point. When they do end well for us, we experience a degree of humility and gratitude that turns us and makes us live differently—more aware of our very tenuous hold on life, love, and luck, and itching to make the most of each. It is the “give” in the cosmos that leaves me bowing in awe and wonder before the mystery of my life and the Mystery of creation.
Why by fire and who by water?
Who by sword and who by beast?
Who by hunger and who by thirst?
Who by earthquake and who by drowning?
Who by strangling and who by stoning?
I don’t know who. Or why. Or when. But I do know that here I sit, safely in a sanctuary, reciting these words, despite the many, many threats to human existence. I don’t understand the mystery of fore-give-ness. I only know that in light of it, I must turn and live differently.
This is teshuvah.
-- Rabbi Nicole K Roberts, North Shore Temple Emanuel, Chatswood, New South Wales