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Teshuvah - Turning back to God

    B"H Yeshua

Turning Back to God

An Elul Meditation

by John J. Parsons

Lamentations 5:21 (BHS)

Be gracious unto me, O God, according to Thy mercy; according to the multitude of
Thy compassions blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)

HE THEME OF the Jewish High Holidays is teshuvah, a word often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning back (shuv) to God. In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah, or a question. 

God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer. Teshuvah is one of the great gifts God gives each of us – the ability to turn back to Him and seek healing for our brokenness.

Psalm 51 is sometimes called "Perek Teshuvah" – the great Chapter of Repentance of the Scriptures. After King David was confronted with the truth of his crimes and the prospect of judgment, he returned to God for cleansing and forgiveness.  David's teshuvah reveals that we also can return to God on the basis of His abundant compassion – His rachamim. Without God's love we have no hope for the future.

After the Jews had committed the grievous sin with the golden calf, Moses despaired of ever being able to find favor in God's eyes again. God, however, called Moses to return to the mountain to learn the meaning of the Name YHVH.  While he waited in the cleft of the rock, Moses heard the Divine Voice saying, "The LORD, the LORD, God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exod. 34:6). This was David's experience of return, too. Given his great transgressions of the Torah, he was sure that he had lost God's favor. David needed to rediscover God's love despite his brokenness and sin.

The greatest demonstration of the compassion of God was given at Mount Moriah, the place of the sacrifice of Yeshua.  Just as Moses and David had to confront their own brokenness to hear the Divine Voice, so we need to turn to the cross to hear the cries of YHVH suffering for our own.  At the cross we find compassion and healing for our brokenness and sin.

During this Season of Teshuvah may we once again respond to the Voice of God's love.

Hebrew-English Transliteration:

Hebrew-English transliteration

Choneini Elohim ke'chasdekha, kerov rachamekha mecheh fesha'ai

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Elul and the Shofar

During the month of Elul it is customary to blow the shofar every day (except on Shabbat). Psalm 27 is often recited every day during this time as well.

There are four primary types of shofar blasts:

  1. Tekiah (תְּקִיעָה) - A long single blast (the sound of the King's coronation)
  2. Shevarim (שְׁבָרִים) - Three short wail-like blasts (signifying repentance)
  3. Teru'ah (תְּרוּעָה) - Nine staccato blasts of alarm (to awaken the soul)
  4. Tekiah ha-Gadol (תְּקִיעָה הַגָּדוֹל) - A great long blast (for as long as you can blow!)

The general custom is to first blow tekiah, followed by shevarim, followed by teruah, and to close with tekiah hagadol: 

Listen to the Shofar (click speaker icon)

During the Season of Teshuvah it's important to recall that the shofar is also a means of awakening the slumbering soul...   Maimonides writes: "There is a hidden message we are supposed to infer by listening to the shofar. It suggests to say: 'Sleeping ones! Awaken from your sleep! Slumbering ones! Awaken from your slumber! Examine your deeds. Remember your Creator and do teshuvah." This idea is echoed in the New Testament writings: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you" (Eph. 5:13-14).  This theme of "awakening from sleep" is used elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., John 11:11, Rom. 13:11, 1 Thess. 5:6, Dan. 12:1-2, Psalm 78:65, etc.). The sound of the shofar calls us to return to the LORD and seek His face. And since finding God is our greatest joy, King David rightly wrote: "Happy is the people who know the teruah [i.e. the shofar blast]" (Psalm 89:16).

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