The Kumzitz and Teshuva

Back in high school, I had a hard time appreciating a kumzitz (sitting in a circle and singing slow meditative songs). My years learning in Israel after High School only deepened this discomfort, as the expectations increased to participate and enjoy the kumzitz. For a long time, I wasn’t exactly sure why I felt uncomfortable by this experience with my peers-all of us linking arms and singing with fierce intensity. With increased self-awareness I know that some of my discomfort had much to do with my being more of an introvert by nature. But there is another element that I couldn’t put my finger on in the past, which I can articulate with more clarity now.  

The meditative music and uplifting verses of a kumzitz can help us to feel unburdened by whatever blocks the path to connecting with our deeper selves – with our souls. And as the kumzitz encourages the beginning of a process of opening, it must be recognized as such – as a beginning. Then the hard work begins. It is what we do when we get up from the kumzitz that truly defines its value.

We experience something similar during the ten days of repentance. As Erica Brown writes in Return, “Teshuva can never be achieved in one day of intense prayer; recovery is a process, not a singular act. It requires tenderness, commitment, and patience. Yom Kippur may represent the beginning of the process, but it is rarely its end…Repentance is the place to embrace the strength needed to fight our hardest inner battles and our stubborn resistance to change…That process is not linear nor is it simple. It feels harder than anything we have ever done before.”

My uneasiness with the kumzitz is captured by something that Brown writes regarding teshuva. “The feelings that underlie repentance are not repentance itself. It is a change of heart or mind that immediately precedes a change of behavior, and according to Jewish law, genuine teshuva cannot exist without this sentiment. But the feeling alone is not enough.”

Return offers a thought provoking and emotionally moving meditation for each of the ten days of repentance. But, it doesn’t really need to be finished by Yom Kippur as much as it should be started by then…for this truly is the beginning.

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