Why don’t we do what we know is good for us?

And how to live what you know to be true

Noam Levenson

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We Jews just finished the month of Elul which constitutes a time of t’shuvah before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. T’shuvah is commonly translated as “repentance,” although this is a poor semantic representation for the Jewish concept. The process of t’shuvah, at its core, is a return to self, to our inner truths — the word in Hebrew, תשובה‎ — literally means, “return.” T’shuvah is the return to the things we know to be true, to be valuable for us, to be healthy for us, but for some reason, we cannot embrace. Professor and popular author, Brené Brown, says that it is because of our difficulty with being vulnerable that we always focus our discussions on “what is good for us,” and not “what is getting in the way of us doing what is good for us.” CNN’s daily feed is filled with articles highlighting “the ten best foods to eat” or “how to get that perfect beach body.” It’s far more difficult to personally confront why we don’t embrace what is good for us. That’s uncomfortable. Instead, we focus our attention elsewhere thinking that it is merely a lack of knowledge that keeps us stuck. If only we knew the perfect way of living, we think. Yet most of us already know what is true, what is good for us. We don’t need countless articles to tell us what we know already. The question then is what gets in the way of us doing what is good for us? This question is at the root of t’shuvah. T’shuvah is the process of uncovering those walls and barriers that distance us from G-d or from our soul (or from our inner self and reality if you prefer different terms). We pile layers and filters upon reality that keeps us from seeing things as they actually are. Our ego, our defensiveness, our fears, and our preconceptions all color and distort our clarity. The 12th-century Jewish scholar, Maimonides, discusses how, when the process of Tshuva is fully embraced, “sin,” or, in Hebrew, “chet,” naturally falls away. The term chet appropriately translates, not to sin in the Christian and Western view of the word, but rather to anything that distances us from G-d, truth, or that inner knowing of what is true and good (intuition, perhaps). T’shuvah is the return, the closure of that distance, the rebuilding of the relationship. It makes sense then that properly performed t’shuvah has us relinquishing our chets with very little effort. When we truly return to our truth, there is no longer a desire to perform those actions that create distance. We don’t need to crush sin with

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