Every night, I empty the contents of my pockets onto the dresser in my bedroom. That often includes loose change, receipts – many of which contain shorthand notes or reminders – clean and dirty tissues, and whatever other miscellaneous things ended up there during the day.
Last week, my wife surprised me with a little gift: a “stuff collector” (that’s the sophisticated name I gave it). In the center, it has a beautiful picture of me holding our twins, taken by the camp photographer this past summer. It has walls on the side to contain whatever is placed in it.
Before I received this gift, my little scraps of notes, receipts, and papers would often pile up and remain there for a long time before I finally sifted through it all (or the cleaning lady decided to dispose of them). The picture on the “stuff collector” is always there; but if my papers, change, and collar stays cover it, I won’t be able to see it. So now I have an incentive to clear it out periodically, because that’s the only way the picture will be visible.
The great month of Elul has begun. The spirit of preparation for the Days of Mercy and Judgment have begun to envelop us, and with it the knowledge that it’s time to focus on t’shuvah.
T’shuvah literally means to return. The question becomes: to whom/what/where are we returning?
Michelangelo was once asked how he creates such incredible and brilliant sculptures. He replied, “I see the sculpture already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. What’s left is only for me to chisel away the superfluous material.”
Every morning we state, “My G-d, the soul that You have placed within me is pure.” Not only was our soul pure when it was breathed into us at the time of our birth, but it remains pure throughout our lives.
The Maharal (N’siv HaAvodah – T’shuvah, chapter 1) writes that every person is analogous to a vibrant, living Beis HaMikdash. Just as the Beis HaMikdash was a physical structure in the physical world, which possessed an ulterior spiritual and lofty mission, so too man. When one sins, he is unwittingly bringing impurity into that vibrant Beis HaMikdash. But when one repents, it is as if he refurbished and re-purified the Beis HaMikdash that he personifies.
Our challenge is that we often cannot sense or feel in touch with the holiness within us because of our misdeeds and sins. That in turn causes us to feel distant and forlorn. The result is that, not only do we feel distant from G-d, but we also feel distant from ourselves. That causes us to feel shameful and internally disconnected.
When we do t’shuvah, we are not seeking external greatness. Rather, we are digging and chiseling away at the imperfections we have allowed to amass. T’shuvah is turning inward to rediscover the spark within us.
Beneath all the debris we pile on top of it, lies the pristine picture of ourselves waiting to be revealed.