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“Repentance,” like most words that have come into the English language from Latin, is thin on emotion, feeling. There is something cerebral about it that does not capture the sorrow, the regretting, the regressing to the fervored childlike promises of I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.
But lashuv, to go back, means not only ”to regret,” it also means “to return.” This translation captures the hope that going back is always possible: going back to a pre-lapsarian world in which our wrongdoings are gone, in which we have not yet missed the mark (cheit, the word for sin, being an archery term), in which broken relationships are healed without leaving scars, in which we ourselves are innocent again, having said No to the apple and the knowledge of good and evil.
Yet somehow the notion of returning implies a place or a state of being to which we can return, as we move from the here and now to the there and then. But can we? How do I return when I am lost?
If we question the Hebrew term further, we find that it also means “to recover.” We can recover an item we lost, and we can recover from illness or injury (e.g., 1 Kings 13:6). Recovering in this latter sense, while returning us to health, does not erase the illness or the disease or the moral failings to which we succumbed, it covers them over the way an upholsterer recovers the stained and frayed fabric of an old chaise. When we are thusly recovered, we seem new only at first blush. For without a record of our misses, our meanness, our self-righteous judgements, our selfish grievances and grief—how can we possibly grow our neshamas into souls that do not fail the same way again, and again?
Return is like time-travel, we are never sure we are in fact returning to the time before we erred. And even if we did, and we could—where in this is the record of our struggle? Recovered, we will always be defined both by the recovery and by that from which we recovered. Just as a recovered alcoholic is not the same as someone who has never lusted after a drink, so the sorry sinner is not the same as the innocent.
Tate in Himl, let me wear my sins with humility, let me try whole-heartedly to heal the pain I have caused others, and recover from who I was when cause it I did. May forgiveness, theirs and Yours, flow like cooling water over the yetzer that is as much I as I am I.