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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Yom Kippur

Lost In Translation

Taken together, Tefila, Teshuva & Tzedaka are the instruments which allow us to operate on our damaged souls & repair them, the tools with which we can rebuild – our holy relationship with Hashem.
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We all are certainly familiar with that dramatic moment on Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur, at the conclusion of the powerful U’n’taneh Tokef prayer, when we & the Chazan loudly proclaim: TEFILA, TESHUVA, TZEDAKA – Prayer, Repentance & Charity (help avert a negative decree).

But the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that all three of these terms are grossly mistranslated! In fact, the terms "repentance, prayer & charity" may actually convey the exact opposite of their true & intended meaning!

"Repentance" implies regret, while Teshuva means "return." "Repentance" assumes that Man is inherently evil, that he must abandon his "normal" sinful state of being for a purer way of life - a fairly drastic and difficult transformation.

But the Torah sees Man’s soul as essentially good; his sins are rather the aberration, & not the reflection of his true character. To do Teshuva, then, is merely to return to oneself; a natural, much easier journey to take.

"Prayer" & Tefila also go in different directions. To "pray" is to beg for what one lacks, to ask a higher power to grant our requests & send blessings – which are beyond our reach - down to us from above. But Tefila derives literally from the word, "attachment." It implies that our neshamot are intrinsically connected to G-d, though that connection may have become sullied & blurred. Through the medium of prayer, we cleave & connect back to Hashem again, our souls rising up to G-d, hooking into His conduit of brachot which now are fully accessible, & so flow naturally to us.

The term "charity" implies that the giver, out of the goodness of his heart, is magnanimously bequeathing some of his hard-earned funds to someone in need. But Tzedaka actually means "justice." The money we have in our possession is not totally our own; it has been placed in trust with us by the Almighty – who is our "senior partner" - & is to be put to proper use by us. To give to those in need, then, is not really an act of "charity" at all, but rather a matter of basic justice & fairness.

Taken together, Tefila, Teshuva & Tzedaka are the instruments which allow us to operate on our damaged souls & repair them; the tools with which we can build – or better, rebuild – our holy relationship with Hashem.

Once we have done that, then everything else – wisdom, satisfaction in life, optimism, a sense of serenity with the universe – will flow to us as naturally as the waters of the Golan – OUR Golan - flow into & fill the Kinneret.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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