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  • Writer's pictureAriel Tovlev

Mussar Musings for a New Year

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Shanah tovah umetukah lekulam! A good and sweet new year for everyone.

When I was younger, I thought of teshuva in the traditional sense -- atonement, repentance, preferably with some form of self-flagellation. When I started learning more, especially learning Mussar, it became clear to me why we use a word meaning "return" for our concept of "repentance."

Each of us has within us a pureness, a brightness, a goodness that cannot be corrupted. Over time, as we experience hardships, as we are faced with difficult decisions and behave in ways that do not align with our values, clouds form over our light. But the light itself is not changed, just hidden and obscured. Behind the clouds our light cannot shine on others, and when it is hidden enough, sometimes we ourselves can't feel its warmth anymore.

But every year we are reminded of who we are at our core. We are good, pure people who have made mistakes. We've missed the mark. We've acted in ways that do not represent us. Our behaviors have not matched who we are. We need to spend some time on ourselves to clear out our clouds, to feel the warmth of our own light, and to share its brilliance with others.

Teshuva is not about being a bad person. It's the opposite of that. Teshuva is about being a good person who has not always behaved that way. Teshuva requires self-love, it requires the understanding that we are at our core good, pure, valid, and deserving of love and forgiveness. It is an understanding that good people can do bad things, and the best way to prevent transgressions in the future is to return to our goodness, return to the parts of ourselves we ignored when we made bad choices, return to our light to focus our energy to grow our ability to heal and limit our likelihood to cause pain.

I hope we all have a moment in these days of awe to experience awe in ourselves, in each other, in our collective goodness, and in the sparks of light we produce amidst the darkness. To a happy, healthy, and bright new year.


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