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Spiritual Teshuvah

The first rung of teshuvah, of finding inner wholeness, is bodily teshuvah as we care for our physical health and well-being. Next is Spiritual Teshuvah. This rung challenges us to identify a particular habit or behavior that is hurtful to others or that damages our connection to God. Once we note that behavior, we then create a plan to change.


1. Identify an interpersonal behavior you have that is hurtful to others. Begin keeping a log of when that behavior happens. What are the triggers? What are the circumstances in which that behavior emerges?

2. Once you have identified the behavior and its triggers, imagine (perhaps through journaling) how you would like to respond. For example, if you are being too quick to anger, perhaps imagine a more patient response. If you are impatient in driving, imagine intentionally waiting and allowing people to merge. If you are never quite getting around to having some Shabbat time in your life, imagine getting off work a few minutes early, lighting candles, and having a nice dinner.

3. Now, the next time your trigger occurs, take a deep breath and work on allowing the new imagined behavior to become who you are. Have patience: Inevitably you will slip back into your old habits. The measure of success is seeing any change, not seeing perfect change.


Rav Kook believes that every person contains a connection to God, to the wholeness within the Universe. We experience that connection in what he calls the “spirit of teshuvah.” When we are in tune with that connection, our own inner wholeness strengthens our character such that we do a better job of nurturing loving relationships and our own spiritual self. By contrast, when we are out of tune, our fears, separation,  and anxieties twist our inner selves such that we express words and deeds to others that are insulting, angry, or judgmental.

When we feel stress or anxiety, that is a sign that something whole in us is getting twisted by our fears, appetites, and insecurities. The anxiety is helpful because the feeling in the body alerts us that we are out of balance. The stress highlights the need to find inner resources and attend to our actions.

This kind of teshuvah includes inner personal relations as well as specific actions on our spiritual selves. When we attend to our souls, through observance of Shabbat or Kashrut or prayer, we are creating the resources and inner wholeness that enable us to act in healthy whole ways with others. Further, when we are thoughtful about how we express ourselves, we feel the need to find an inner wholeness and balance fostered by Jewish ritual.

Spiritual teshuvah is focused around a specific failing or trigger. By selecting one practice, this type of teshuvah facilitates real growth. We can make a plan around one behavior and feel real growth in ourselves. As we do this, we draw closer to the full spirit of Teshuvah and begin to see the possibility of a more complete change.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Booth

Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyyar 5784