■ Erick Peretz / Contributed
Instead of regarding the Bible as a “Book of Answers” for our questions, it is worthwhile to think of it as a “Book of Questions” for our answers. As we listen, God questions us so that we can know him by means of the dialogue within our hearts.
As a good teacher knows, when a student earnestly wrestles with a question, he learns more than if he were given a straightforward answer. Similarly, the Lord gives us permission to be without answers so that we will be free to seek, to struggle, and to “own” what we understand through our relationship with him. This allows our learning to be real, substantive, and born from the urgency of our own inner need.
Indeed, God’s first question to man is always, ayekah: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9), which appeals for us to acknowledge how we hide from the truth. “Where are you?” is the poignant call of the Seeking Father for his lost child, and the question becomes “our own” when we are willing to examine how we’ve come to this place in our lives. God’s question to our heart is meant to lead us out of hiding to respond to His loving call.
The word “teshuvah” is often translated as “repentance” in English, 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.
Ultimately, teshuvah means surrendering your life to God – that is, abandoning yourself to his care. This is a place of rest, trust, and peace that allows the Spirit of God to work through you (Zechariah 4:6). Here you can let go of your need to control, and allow others to be what they are without making demands. As you let go in trust, you find comfort in God’s sheltering presence. The love you have been searching for does not come by striving to be religious, but by opening your heart to receive God’s eternal promise.
Prayer is essentially a response to God’s call for us, a kind of teshuvah or turning (shuv) to God. God’s love for us is the question, and our turning of the heart toward him is the answer. It is not about finding the right words: “When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart.” Inwardly bow in awe before the throne of grace. Keep praying until you are able to let go and trust God’s heart.
As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is a season of introspection and teshuvah (repentance) whereby we seek to turn our hearts to God and to attune ourselves to what is most important. This is not a trivial task but requires courage and the willingness to be honest with ourselves. All of us have unhealed parts, “hidden faults” of which we are not fully aware. Therefore King David prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults” (Psalm 19:12). We are cleansed by confession, that is, by looking within our hearts to uncover deeper motivations.
If we are honest with ourselves we may discover, for example, that we are angry or fearful people, despite how we otherwise wish to regard ourselves. If you find yourself unable to let something go, for instance, some pain or failure of the past, remind yourself that you must do so if you want to move on with your life. Focusing on how things could have been different is to be enslaved to the past. The goal of teshuvah (repentance) is to turn us back to God for life, but to do this, we must be willing to let go of what makes us sick.
Rabbi Erick Peretz serves as associate rabbi of Simchat Yeshua, A Jewish Messianic Congregation located at 2585 S. San Jacinto Ave. in San Jacinto. Call 951-440-0557 for more information and service times.