What is Teshuva?

Tags: Education, Family, Women, Young Leadership

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Republished with permission from PJ Library.

During the High Holiday season, we talk about teshuva or repentance. But what is it exactly? Teshuva actually means "return" in the context of returning from doing wrong. It can be a hard concept to understand, but Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride gives an easy visual explanation. Ari literally turns his train around to return home and apologize to his friends. This is what teshuva is all about: recognizing when we've hurt others, righting our wrongs by saying "sorry," or forgiving, and resolving to do better the next time. The High Holidays present an opportunity to talk with children about concepts like forgiveness, empathy, and ways that they can turn things around and return to what's important in the new year.

Saying sorry, apologizing to friends for mistakes, and developing empathy for how other people feel are accessible ways for young children to practice teshuvah. It's never too late for a person of any age to do teshuvah--there are no time constraints or limits to saying I'm sorry.

Here are some ways to "talk teshuva" with your family:


Sit with your children and discuss times that you may have hurt someone's feelings or when you could have behaved better. Has your child ever called a classmate a name? Have you ever had a rough day at work and in turn yelled at home? In Sammy Spider's First Yom Kippur, Josh Shapiro sits down with his parents to make a list of people he'd like to apologize to for Yom Kippur. You can do something similar with your family, or read a story like Sammy Spider or The Hardest Word and use it to kickstart a conversation.


Model the behavior that you want your children to learn. Show them that you say "sorry," and own up to your mistakes as well. Apologizing can be tough, especially if we've really hurt someone we care about. One of the best ways that we can help children learn that it's okay to own up to your mistakes and to apologize for them is by doing so ourselves. When we show our children that we apologize - to them, to our friends, and our partners, we model empathy, responsibility, and understanding right and wrong.

Watch this video from CNN for great tips about teaching empathy and helping children learn to apologize and forgive with sincerity. And for a different take check out Sorry Watch, which analyzes apologies in the news, media, history and literature.

Practice saying "I'm sorry" with children by play acting scenarios that demand an apology or make "I'm Sorry" cards together for apologies that might be too difficult to say out loud.


Forgiveness can be hard to grasp for children (and adults) since it's an act and not a feeling. Helping children develop a sense of empathy makes the act of forgiving easier. In her book Mamaleh Knows Best, author Marjorie Ingall writes, "It's important to convey to your kids, when you discipline them, that you believe they haven't truly left the path, that you still love them, that you believe in their ability to write their own wrongs." As parents, we teach children forgiveness through our own actions. Looking for a book about forgiveness? You can see some of our favorites in this list.


Part of teshuva is recognizing the need to change our behaviors - if we return to the same moment, or place, how do we handle a situation differently? How do we do better next time? Think of resolutions that you can make individually and as a family. Write them down and hang them in a prominent place so that you can check in on your resolutions.

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