Roadmap to Teshuva #4: Finding our way

22 Elul, 5780 / September 11, 2020

Rabbi Hayyim of Zans [19th cent.] told a parable: 

A man had been wandering about in a forest for several days, not knowing which was the right way out. Suddenly he saw a man approaching him. His heart was filled with joy. “Now I shall certainly find out which is the right way,” he thought to himself. When they neared one another, he asked the man, “Brother, tell me which is the right way. I have been wandering about in this forest for several days.”

The other said to him, “Brother, I do not know the way out either. For I too have been wandering about here for many, many days. But this I can tell you: do not take the way I have been taking, for that will lead you astray. And now let us look for a new way out together.”  [Adapted from “Days of Awe,” ed. S.Y. Agnon]

The parable beautifully expresses the condition of loneliness that often accompanies the process of teshuva and how easily the experience of the High Holy Days can overwhelm us. Many of us may feel “lost in the woods,” as we muddle through, trying to make sense of things. There are so many words, so many memories, so many hopes and fears that come alive for us at this time. 

The experience of teshuva that we undergo in Elul and the holidays is at once deeply personal and interconnected with those around us. During Elul, we may be more focused on the internal work we need to do, trying to find our own paths through the forest. Those paths cross when we join together as a community – virtually or in person – on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

As Rabbi Hayyim’s parable illustrates, the encounter with one another aids our process of discovery in two ways. First, we communicate with each other and can share the wisdom of our experiences. And secondly, we can partner to find our way through together. With our shared strength, kindness, and compassion, we are capable of getting farther than we would alone. 

Rosh Hashanah is a week away. We are walking in the forest, and our paths are drawing nearer. I can’t wait until they cross, and we’ll find our way together.