“Teshuvah”, the goal of the month of Elul, is usually translated as “repentance” but the word more closely translates to “return”. While the implication is clear – that the act of teshuvah (repentance) allows us the possibility to return to our previous state before we’d transgressed, the other meaning is equally valid – that this is the moment when we can travel back, to take residence again in a place we had left.
Each normative weekday morning, many of us put on a set of tefillin – boxes which contain pieces of parchment inscribed with sections of scripture considered to be central, important, foundational.
Those phrases, pulled from Exodus and Deuteronomy, serve as reminders of our time as slaves, of our responsibility to connect ourselves to God, and of the reward of fostering this Divine relationship.
But, say the sages of Talmud, God wears Tefillin, too. Ignoring the question of how an infinite, incorporeal God could “wear” something (trust me, the Rabbi’s covered this. It’s a fun conversation for another time.), one has to wonder, what would God put in His tefillin?
“Who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation in the world?”(II Sam. 7:23)
Taken as a matching set – our tefillin and God’s – you have an image not so much of obligation or religious restriction as you do of two lovers, separated by vast distances, who never the less keep lockets with reminders of each other next to their hearts.
Set against that backdrop, the idea of teshuvah-as-return is one of intense, passionate, and even painful longing. The need to make the journey back. The desire to resolve whatever created this rift.
The willingness to go to any length to be re-united again, and forever.