TESHUVAH: A Guide for the Mind and Heart during Elul, Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur
by Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein (Mosaica Press, 2016)

If you walk into a superstore that serves the Jewish community around this time of year you won’t need to look far to find where the stocks of honey can be purchased. As we know, honey represents sweetness and delight and we all look forward to dipping the challah and apple in honey on Rosh Hashanah and blessing each other with a happy and sweet new year. However, I have to admit that over the past few days I have already been enjoying some truly beautiful honey. Though it is different in form to what is found in a superstore, it is no different in sweetness and delight.

Teshuvah by Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein is a stunning collection of 66 short essays on topics relating to Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur & Sukkot. Every single essay sheds new light on the nature of these festive days and the customs and rituals that we perform, each is written with an unusual level of clarity despite the depth of ideas being explained, and every single one left me with a sweet taste in my mouth. To give just a few examples:

Rabbi Bernstein explains that teshuvah (repentance) requires that we do away with some of our stubborn aspects of our personality, and therefore ‘teshuvah is the art of maintaining a youthful attitude and openness to change’ (p. 42).

In another essay exploring ‘Inner Teshuvah’, Rabbi Bernstein explains how many Jews who perform mitzvot often lack an awareness of G-d. This then leads him to contrast Jews who are Torah Observant whose mitzvoth punctuate their lives, and those who are Torah Absorbent whose mitzvot permeate their lives (pp. 51-52). He concludes by writing that ‘the process of teshuvah is.. about restoring awareness of Hashem, not only with a view to avoiding aveiros, but also to performing mitzvos with content and meaning’.

Lastly, while discussing the relationship between the story of Akeidat Yitzchak and the Shofar, Rabbi Bernstein explains that we too undergo a form of sacrifice because when the shofar is blown, we sacrifice our prior state of existence in order to create a new more refined version of ourselves (p. 81).

In Teshuvah, Rabbi Bernstein quotes widely from well-known and not-so-well-known rabbinic sources and as he explains in the Acknowledgements, he came to know many of these sources from his beloved father Rabbi Isaac Bernstein zt’l whose breadth of knowledge and inspiring oratory is etched into the mind of all who had the privilege of learning from him.

Teshuvah is an elegant book that stimulates both heart and mind and it is an excellent gift both for those who are less knowledgeable as well as those who think they have heard all there is to know about these festive days.

Finally, just like the pot of honey, I believe those who do have the opportunity to purchase or receive a copy of Teshuvah should place it on the festive table so that its wisdom can be shared and its sweetness can be enjoyed. To order your copy of Teshuvah, click here.