The Arithmetic of Teshuva* (returning to G-d by repentance)
Stay right where you are. I know what you're thinking: 'The Arithmetic of Teshuva'? I'm outta here.' Now just one second. Give me a chance to explain. I assure you this will be as painless but as profitable a math lesson as you have ever experienced.
Here now. Take a look at this fraction, 10/365, which may be read: "ten over three hundred, sixty-five or as "ten out of three hundred sixty-five.
Any of this sound familiar? If yes, follow along. If I've managed to pique your interest, great. If not, why not follow along anyway? If anything, you may come out of this with a much needed refresher and outlook on fractions.
Most Jews regard these ten days, The Days of Awe, starting on the eve of the first day of Tishrei* (first month of the New Jewish year) and ending after sundown on the tenth as a last chance opportunity to "do teshuva" before Hashem seals The Book of Life.
You know, I have often wondered about these so-called Ten Days of Awe. When speaking of people, we say a person is “in awe” of … well, there are just so many choices, in awe of: the grand canyon, a baby’s awesome body, a green grasshopper (wow! can they jump or what?) I could go on but in the interest of time, today being Kol Nidre (opening prayer of Erev Yom Kippur) I won’t.
Why not simply be in awe of G-d? Got any better ideas? Let me make it easy for you. Ever been in front of a judge? Or even better, your kid?
We were. I say “we” because the judge called up my son and his parents to approach the bench. So we did and waited about twenty seconds before the judge looked down at us.
“I see by looking at your parents and the expression on their faces that you come from good stock, my young friend, but if I see you again in this court before your twenty-first birthday, I’ll … “
Well I’m not ashamed to tell you I was shaking like a leaf. The very idea of my son in … you know. I don’t know what I would have done but they might have had to take me out of there ona stretcher.
But be weary of the numerator "10" in the fraction. It may very well mislead you.
How things seem on the surface
You've come across them tacked to the partition walls of work cubicles in offices. Mini-posters of sorts. My favorite shows a pacific scene of several ducks just floating around contentedly, not a worry in the world. The caption reads: "I know what you're thinking. That here I am floating contentedly, but I am actually paddling like a loon under the surface” or something like that. You get the point, right?
I think the central lesson in all of this is each of us has to personalize all of the ashamnus* the al chets* (statements of our specific sins) to fit us individually. Who, after all, knows us better than we ourselves?
You know your weak points. Fortify them. Many say “The Days of Awe are about coming closer to G-d.” How does one come closer to G-d who has no body and whatever there is of Him, we cannot see anyway?
While true, as we say in Yigdal (hymn sung about G-d's attributes): “Ein lo demut haguf ve’eino guf/He has neither form of body nor is He corporeal” The key and, by the way, you know this already, the key is to know Him through His creation, not by worshiping it because that would be avoda zara (idol and idle worship) but to acknowledge it is He who made the tiniest microbe and the Tyrannosaurus and everything in between.
You see there are not only ten days of awe but three hundred sixty five.
‘Okay, I get that, but what has any of that to do with the opening math lesson?’
Easy, you see the fraction corresponding to the Days of Awe is really 365/365, not the 10/365 as I said in my opening remarks.
Now, anyone who knows anything about fractions knows that if the numerator (the number above the line) is the same as the denominator (the number below the line), that fraction is equal to “1”, one … One. Got it?
May we be inscribed and sealed in The Book of Life for the new year!