The ten-day period beginning with Rosh HaShanah and climaxing on
Yom Kippur is referred to as Aseres Yemei Teshuvah ("the Ten Days
of Teshuvah"). 
At this time of year, our service of G-d is primarily directed
The conventional translation of teshuvah as "repentance"
restricts its conception to one shared by Western society as a
The literal translation of teshuvah - and the conception
expressed in our divine service - is "return". 
A comparison of the meaning of these two terms through the eyes
of the Jewish tradition reflects a radical contrast that sheds
light on many aspects of our relationship with G-d.
Repentance implies a reversal of one's conduct - a recognition
of past shortcomings, and a firm resolution to change in the
The two are interrelated; the awareness of our weaknesses impels
us to re-orient.
The concept of teshuvah as "return" emphasizes the fundamental
spiritual potential of every person.
Chassidic thought teaches that within each of us resides a Divine
soul, a spark of G-d. 
This infinite G-dly potential represents the core of our souls,
our genuine "I".
From this perspective, sin and evil are superficial elements that
can never affect our fundamental nature.
Teshuvah means rediscovering our true selves, establishing
contact with this G-dly inner potential and making it the
dominant influence in our lives.
Seen in this light, our motivation to do teshuvah is not an
awareness of our inadequacies, but rather a sensitivity to this
infinite potential within our souls.
Returning With Joy
These two different understandings of teshuvah evoke divergent
Repentance is generally associated with sadness, because feelings
of regret and remorse play a leading role in prompting a person
to change his conduct.
Teshuvah, by contrast, is characterized by joy.
A baal teshuvah, one who actualizes his striving for teshuvah,
naturally feels sorrow and remorse over his past mistakes.
His dominant emotion, however, should be joy.
For through teshuvah, he renews his connection to G-d and
establishes a bond with his own spiritual potential.
This, of necessity, gives rise to happiness.
In fact, the absence of happiness indicates that a consummate
connection has not been established and that more effort is
necessary before one's teshuvah is complete.
Of Universal Relevance
Repentance appears to apply only to a limited range of people.
Truly righteous individuals would appear to be beyond the need
for repentance, while others might be considered too completely
estranged from G-d to be capable of this religious experience.
Defining teshuvah as "return", however, broadens the scope of
For if teshuvah involves gaining access to one's true spiritual
potential, it applies to all Jews without exception.
The same G-dly spark exists within the soul of every Jew from the
most alienated to the most righteous. This Divine potential is
infinite; no force or power can prevent its emergence and
Every Jew, regardless of his level, can therefore do teshuvah.
No matter how low he has descended, there is nothing that can
prevent him from reversing his conduct and establishing a bond
By the same token, no one, not even the most righteous, is above
Each of us, even the most spiritually developed, is limited by
the very fact of his humanity.
Our thoughts and our feelings, as well as our bodies and physical
desires, reflect the limitations inherent in creation.
Teshuvah allows us to rise above these limitations and establish
contact with the unbounded potential of our G-dly essence. This,
in turn, lifts the totality of our experience to a higher rung.
Whatever our previous level of divine service, teshuvah can
introduce us to a new and higher plane of spiritual awareness
For this reason, our Sages teach  that "perfect tzaddikim
(righteous men) cannot stand in the place of a baal teshuvah."
For teshuvah reveals the infinite G-dly spark within our souls
and connects us to G-d at a level above even the most sublime
levels of divine service. 
Recalculating Our Merits
Defining teshuvah as "return" rather than "repentance" also
sheds light on the meaning of a problematic Talmudic passage.
Our Sages  state that through teshuvah, all our past
transgressions, even those committed intentionally, are
transformed into merits.
We can appreciate that repentance erases all traces of the past,
and that G-d forgives our sins and allows us to start anew. But
how can repentance transform the sin itself, an act performed in
defiance of G-d's will, into a positive deed?
Sin separates a Jew from G-d.  How can it become part of a
process of connection?
These questions are valid if we view teshuvah as repentance, an
opportunity for a new beginning. When we conceive of teshuvah as
a return to our true selves, however, these difficulties are
A Jew is never separate from G-d, even when he sins,  because
the fundamental spiritual bond which links us to G-d is so strong
that even when a conscious relationship appears to have been
severed through sin, the inner connection is unaffected and
continues to propel us toward teshuvah.
Distance Arouses Desire
Because our connection with G-d is always intact, sin, as
an act of separation, may itself provide the impetus for our
fundamental G-dly nature to surface. The feeling of being
outwardly cut off from G-d may arouse a thirst for a more
intense bond with Him. 
Though every sinful act is a direct rebellion against G-d's
desires, when considered as a phase in a progression leading
to teshuvah, sin can be seen as a motivating force, directing a
person to establish a deeper and more powerful relationship with
In fact, the connection with G-d established through teshuvah is
more profound and more intense than that experienced
Every element of our world exists for the fundamental purpose
of revealing G-dliness. 
Certain elements of creation reveal G-dliness overtly; other
elements reveal G-d's Omnipresence indirectly.
For example, the observance of mitzvos straightforwardly
demonstrates that the material can be joined in a bond of
oneness with G-d. The cycle of sin and teshuvah unfolds the
ultimate truth of G-dliness, but in a different manner.
When a person first sins and then feels motivated to reject this
behavior, these two steps, taken together, serve as a powerful
affirmation of G-dliness, demonstrating that nothing, not even
sin, can stand in the way of man's connection to G-d.
The sinner's act of return shows the infinite power of his G-dly
soul, and reveals how it will overcome all obstacles in its
natural drive for self-expression.
The unique bond with G-d established through teshuvah has
repercussions far beyond an individual's personal sphere.
As the Rambam states,  "Israel will be redeemed only through
teshuvah. The Torah has promised that ultimately Israel will
return towards the end of her exile, and immediately she will be
May this take place in the immediate future.
- Cf. Rosh HaShanah 18a.
- Cf. Likkutei Torah, Parshas Chukas, p. 74a; Parshas
Haazinu, p. 71c.
- Cf. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 2:2.
- Cf. Tanya, ch. 2.
- Berachos 34b, as cited by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah,
Hilchos Teshuvah 7:4).
- This concept is connected with the coming of the
Redemption, for the Zohar (III, 153b; see also Likkutei
Torah, Shir HaShirim, p. 50b) teaches that Mashiach will
motivate tzaddikim to turn to G-d in teshuvah. No matter
how complete their divine service, the unbounded
dimensions of G-dliness to be revealed in the Era of the
Redemption will make them realize their limitations and
will call forth a corresponding revelation of the infinite
potential that their souls possess.
- Yoma 86b; cf. Tanya, ch. 7.
- Cf. Yeshayahu 59:2.
- Cf. end of ch. 24 of Tanya.
- Cf. Tanya, ch. 7.
- As stated above, "Perfect tzaddikim ('righteous men')
cannot stand in the place of baalei teshuvah." It goes
without saying that one may not initiate a cycle of sin
and teshuvah in order to attain this intense bond. As our
Sages teach (Yoma 85a), "He who says, 'I will sin and I
will repent,' is not granted the opportunity to repent."
To borrow a term from our Sages (Makkos 7b), sin is "a
descent for the sake of ascent." By nature, a Jew is above
sin. Thus our Sages (Avodah Zarah 4b ff.) were able to
state that certain sins "were not appropriate" to the
Jewish people as a whole, or to particular individuals;
they seemed to be out of character.
Why, then, did these sinful acts take place? - Because G-d
wanted to raise the people as a whole or the particular
individuals involved to a higher level, and the only way
this was possible was through their first undergoing the
descent of sin.
In this context, chassidic thought paraphrases Tehillim
66:5 and describes sin as "an awesome intrigue devised
against man." When a person's Yetzer HaRa overcomes him
and makes him sin, this is because it was prompted from
Above to bring him to this act. Through this "awesome
intrigue," G-d can bring man to the deeper and more
intense bond that is established through teshuvah. (See
the Sichos of Shabbos Parshas Ki Sisa, 5752.)
- Cf. Pirkei Avos 6:11.
- Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5; cf. Sanhedrin 97b.