One of the most important aspects of education and parenting is helping kids engage in 'Teshuva mi'toch simcha ve' ahavat Hashem ' - repentance out of happiness and a love for God. In fact, that is the lesson and the calling of the Torah for all people. Life begins and ends with a focus on Teshuva.
We end the year with the Teshuva of Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And then, after our prayers have been accepted, we celebrate our atonement, forgiveness and new connection with God on Sukkot. The Zohar and Arizal explain things a little differently. A second signature is required to validate the judgment made on Yom Kippur. The' mesirat hapitakim' the handing over of the notes ' occurs on Hoshana Raba and the final judgment takes effect on Simchat Torah, after the kedusha of mussaf. So in fact the Teshuva process does not end with Yom Kippur but on Hoshana Raba.
Teshuva is intrinsically motivated, but the Teshuvah of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is mainly driven by the fear and awe of God's omnipresence- mitoch yir'ah - and the seriousness and urgency of the days of judgement and atonement - and also to a lesser extent by the joy we experience because of the opportunity we have been given to do teshuva and come closer to God. This is replaced on Succot by a Teshuva motivated by joy and love for God. Only a Teshuvah mi'toch simcha – repentance out of joy is able to facilitate us returning to God and doing ' complete Teshuva', something that we pray for God's help in this matter every day. Teshuva is not only having regret about the past , making amends and making a commitment not to repeat these sins but is also about achieving and realizing one's potential and mad'rei'ga-stature . While we may not be sinning, there is plenty of room for improving our midot, our character traits, and our connection to holiness and realizing the unique potentials of our souls. And this can only be done if we feel self-directed, self –determined and intrinsically motivated. When people are happy, fulfilled and have a connection with God, they feel self-determined and the source of their Teshuva is joy and a love of God.
In our daily prayers we pray – השיבנו אבינו לתורתך וקרבנו מלכנו לעבודתך והחזירנו בתשובה שלמה לפניך. ברוך אתה ה', הרוצה בתשובה . Our father, bring us back to your Torah, and bring us near to your service and influence us to return in complete and perfection repentance before you ………The process of Teshuva starts with a connection to the Torah. If we look at this week's parasha Be'reishit , we see that the Torah opens up with the account of 2 sins, those of Adam – אדם הראשון who transgressed God's commandment and ate from the tree of knowledge and that of Cain , who first brought an offering to God from inferior crops and latter in a fight killed his brother Abel. The Torah teaches from the very beginning that man's life is a focus on Teshuva.
God confronts man in a most compassionate way. He does not do it like a parent or teacher who tries to discipline a child. There is no blame, shame or even mention of punishment. God caused his sound to be heard and did not engage them immediately showing that we should be sensitive to a person's embarrassment at sinning and allow them to regain some dignity. God's presence was felt only after they had sewn fig leaves together to cover their shame and embarrassment. God does not reprimand them, but tries to slowly engage them in a conversation. Even though he knows where they are – He calls to man – איכה - where are you? And man answers that he was afraid to be naked before God – when we pray we need to be dressed respectfully - and to this God asked – who told you that you were naked? You are correct to act this way and hide from me because you are naked, your action is faultless, but how did you get to this ' level ' that you know that you are naked. We learn from here that while our actions are often OK , we are also judged for being on the level we are holding and have to do ' Teshuva ha'mad'reiga ' - improve the level we are operating on.
God responds to Cain in the same way. Why are you so depressed and frustrated about succumbing to the Yeitzer ha'rah – the evil inclination. I have given you a divine intelligence and the Torah to help you deal and overcome the evil inclination.
Mistakes, failure and even sin are part of our engaging in and learning of Torah and essential to understanding and growing in Torah. – אין אדם עומד על דברי תורה אלא אם כן נכשלים בהם תחילה - A person does not gain an understanding or appreciation of the words of the Torah until he falters or stumbles in them.
It is clear that God's response to man's sins and inappropriate actions is far from the traditional discipline that parents and teachers use. Instead we should learn from God, how not to be judgmental but focus on helping kids do ' complete teshuva' mitoch simcha ve'ahavat Hashem ' - repent out of joy and a love of God. If kids understand that we are not angry with them and are not going to punish or desert them, but we love and care about them unconditionally and are there to help them, we will be supporting them in reflecting on their actions and in an autonomous way engage in the moral act of restitution and reparation – in other words doing Teshuva. The question we need to ask ourselves – is our focus on discipline or on Teshuva?