As Jews we embrace each new season. Spring, and the month of Nisan, is the season of our renewal as a People. With Pesach we celebrate our redemption by the hand of God and our birth as a Nation. We begin our summer with the month of Sivan and the holiday of Shevuoth, the commemoration of the revelation of God's Law at Sinai. Spiritually, Shevuoth returns to active memory the eternal validity of God's teachings and the way of life for Israel, guarding and fulfilling God's will in this magnificent world. Pesach and Shevuoth help us understand our spirituality; engaging the world for the sake of Heaven through our deeds, thus filling each space in this world, and each moment of our lives, with God's sanctity.
Summer brings the world into bloom, and we open our eyes. In the world's harmony, we are reminded of God's presence and we understand anew that we are needed in God's chorus, calling us to turn to God's spiritual rhythms by fulfilling mitzvoth and growing through each spiritual season. In these spiritual rhythms, summertime continues, and the Hebrew month of Sivan leads into Tammuz when we are ill-stricken, in the middle of our joyous summer, with 2,000 years of our people's pain. The 17th day of the month of Tammuz arrives, and we are reminded of the terror our people endured during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE as the Romans breached the walls. This period of mourning comes to an end three weeks later with Tisha b'Av, the ninth of Av, the day when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE by the hands of the Babylonians, and again by the Romans in the year 70 of the Common Era. In our mourning, we reflect upon the forces which brought about this destruction: hatred between brothers and sisters. And in the progression of summer, we begin to look toward a New Year, evaluating our lives, our actions, and asking ourselves: what destruction does my own behavior cause, and what worlds do I build with my loving kindness?
Time continues. Suddenly the trees begin to change colors. Reds and yellows dot the branches, and the month of Elulhas arrived. It is the time of year when children go back to school with clean notebooks and when we begin the arduous and fulfilling work of repentance, teshuvah, that shall continue through Yom Kippur.
Think back to Shevuoth. Remind yourself of the freshness of a new summer and a renewed sense of Torah. Go even farther back into the year 5769. Who is new in your life and who is now departed? To whom do you owe an apology? And whom might you forgive? What values did you live by in this past year? Did you extend your hand to a stranger, to a widow, an orphan? Did you approach each new day with optimism? Teshuvah begins with introspection, preparing the spirit for its arousal at Rosh Hashana.
Rosh Hashana is a day of rousing, Yom T'ruah. The shrill sound of the shofar awakens us from the laziness of summer. Maimonides intimates in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4, "Arise you who sleep and awaken you who slumber and search within your actions and repent and remember your Creator!" The sound of the shofar stirs us, invigorates us, while the rest of the world prepares for winter's slumber. Aroused, we are to do the meaningful work of teshuvah, the work that will bring us a sense of peace within our relationships and bring us closer to God.
Teshuvah is a demanding process wherein we evaluate our actions and offenses, apologize to those whom we hurt, and commit ourselves to do everything in our power to avoid repeating these offenses. And teshuvah is more, for it is about dreaming of our own potential and striving towards it, committed to the ongoing process of self-betterment.
God's spiritual rhythms prepare us for this task of dreaming, of dreaming about an improved world and the difficult process through which we evaluate our role in its improvement. The process begins with Passover, in the month of Nisan, with our redemption from slavery. The process continues in the month of Sivan with Shevuoth and Matan Torah, our receiving Torah: a purpose of our freedom. And this process culminates in the month of Tishrei, at the beginning of the New Year, with our own teshuvah, with our return to God and to Torah, and to our better selves. Invigorated by our renewal, we are strengthened to live each new day as it is, as a gift from God. And within these spiritual rhythms, we face our personal enslavement, experience our ultimate redemption, admit our transgressions against God and fellow beings alike and make teshuvah - repent for our misdeeds - and, we pray, bring forth the merit of being written and sealed into the Book of Life for one more year.