click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Door's Open, But the Ride It Ain't Free

The Door's Open, But the Ride It Ain't Free

Four steps to real change.


If the Byrds can use verses from Ecclesiastes in their song, "Turn, Turn, Turn," then a rabbi can discuss Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur using Bruce Springsteen lyrics: "The door's open, but the ride it ain't free."

Many Jews who find themselves in a place of worship during High Holidays bide their time until they can leave. Others make a real effort to have a transformative experience, and enjoy a ride to new heights of self-growth and intimacy with God. If you fall into the first group, this article is for you.

Well-known High Holiday traditions include dipping an apple in honey, blowing a Shofar, and fasting. A crucial overlooked practice is "repentance." Perhaps you recoiled upon reading this word because it conjures up images of a medieval priest exhorting his parishioners. But this practice does apply to Jews, and it can give every kind of Jew an upgrade in life.

The true meaning of the Hebrew word teshuva is "return" though it is commonly translated as "repent." Each Jew can return to his/her "true self." The question is, who is the real you? You are real when you don't give the silent treatment to someone you love. You are real when you speak directly to a person who has angered you instead of speaking behind his/her back. You are real when you do not see yourself as a total failure after your performance falls short of perfection. These scenarios warrant teshuva, a return to the genuine you.

The four-step process of teshuva is available to everyone with one caveat: As the Boss said, "the ride it ain't free." It takes commitment, brutal honesty, and introspection.

Four Steps

Consider a practical example. Someone regularly belittles his spouse/colleague/neighbor/child. He knows it's wrong, but continues to do so.

Step 1: Stop the destructive behavior. If you think, "I really should stop," but justify just belittling others via email, then that’s not serious about change.

Step 2: Feel remorse. If the person ceases belittling behavior but does not think it was wrong, then he/she merely gives lip service to a fleeting thought of decency. Spend time thinking about what it must feel like to be belittled; this will bring about genuine remorse.

Step 3: Verbal confession. Not in an anonymous or face-to-face encounter with a religious leader, but to God. Why is it necessary to make a verbal declaration? Because there is a metaphysical power in audibly expressing your innermost thoughts. Restricted to your mind alone, positive thoughts lack the necessary power. Although we do not see God in front of us, when we confess audibly, we become uncomfortable in confessing our wrongdoings and will feel increasingly foolish repeating our misdeeds again tomorrow and the next week.

At the time of confession, say aloud: "I declare before God, Who knows my innermost thoughts: I have done wrong, I have done X behavior (details, details – generalizations do not count) and deeply regret my actions."

Step 4: Resolve not to repeat the destructive behavior. Say out loud: “I will never do it again.” If you can not do this process, you must admit to yourself that you still have a problem.

This process is not for the light-hearted. It’s for people who want the greatness that comes from a mental/psychological/emotional/spiritual workout. The same way a workout at the gym can be challenging yet pleasurable, so too self-growth is a rigorous process that yields pleasure. As the High Holidays approach, we know that we are not enslaved to the forces that separate us from becoming the "true self."

Set aside one hour from your busy schedule. Go somewhere you can think without distractions – a closed room or an open forest, as long as there’s no phone or Internet access to distract you.

Consider the primary relationships in your life – with others, with God, and with yourself – and try to get some big-picture clarity. Try to isolate the one or two points where you are losing the most ground, and then go through the four steps of teshuva.

Take responsibility for your destructive behaviors. The lies you told yourself in the past about not being able to change will belong to someone you no longer recognize. Transform yourself. Now is time for teshuva, a return to the real you. "The door's open."

September 13, 2011

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Micheal Logan @ Door Stops, October 26, 2011 1:09 PM

Door Stops

Its very nice blog. I enjoyed reading all the stuff in fact, i got some new things which are very helpful for me.

(6) Steve Tacher, September 23, 2011 3:53 PM

good stuff...and trimely too!

(5) JG, September 14, 2011 1:50 AM

Excellent summary of the real meaning of the high holidays. How lucky we are to have the opportunity tp start fresh with a clean slate

(4) Rebecca Bingham, September 14, 2011 1:35 AM

Clear, Honest, and Helpful

I clicked this because it was written by my cousin. I read it 3 times and am forwarding it because it offers not just wisdom but practical and honest guidance for something something I struggle with. Thanks cuz.

(3) tamar, September 14, 2011 12:25 AM


I once heard a rabbi comment that we should be doing teshuva all the time, every day of our life, and living each day of life like it is the last day.This attitude sounds hard to reach, but it really makes sense. All of us know we're not perfect--if we just constantly admit to ourselves that we made mistakes and do teshuva, then we are living in the reality that life is short, fleeting, and an awesome opportunity! I took my 3 children to my grandparen't grave the other day--they range in age from 7 months to 4 years. I tucked my older son's tzitzis into his pants so they couldn't be seen, because I heard a Kabbalistic idea that tzitzis shoukd be hidden in a cemetery out of respect to the dead because the neshamas of the dead are jealous of the living that they can no longer do mitzvot. This hit right in the center of the targeted idea of Elul: Life is an opportunity! We never know when it will end. We should keep striving to perfect ourselves and reach our perfection and constantly do teshuva. This way, we can instill somewhat of a sense of happiness that we can always take with us that even though we haven't reached where we'd like to be yet, if we died tomorrow (chaz veshalom) we'd have lived a decent life and have a good slate of merits to take with us.This thought motivates me to keep trying when I fall, and I admit, despite my best efforts, oh boy do I fall, over and over--but don't we all?! K'tiva V'chatima Tova to all!!!!

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment