As part of the vidui (confessional) section of the Selichot service, we declare, “We have strayed from Your commands and from Your good statutes, and it was not worth it for us.” The simple meaning of this final phrase – “ve-lo shava lanu” – is that we now recognize that we lose by committing wrongdoing far more than we gain. When we act wrongly, we temporarily lose sight of the adverse consequences of sin, usually due to distraction or to the appeal of the forbidden act. As we stand before God to confess, we acknowledge our mistake, and affirm that violating God’s word is, always, the wrong decision, that we are never better off disobeying His command, regardless of the benefits we receive as a result.
Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, however, is cited as having offered a different explanation of the phrase “ve-lo shava lanu,” suggesting that it be read it as, “it is not worthy of us.” Meaning, we declare that we are better than our conduct, that our wrongful conduct is unbecoming of us. The process of repentance should not be an exercise in self-deprecation, but to the contrary, an effort to reaffirm our nobility and dignity. As we confess our sins, we acknowledge that they stand directly at odds with our true selves, with our essence. “Lo shava lanu,” according to Rav Bloch, means that we and wrongdoing are mismatched; sinful conduct simply does not fit our true nature.
Although the month preceding Rosh Hashanah is customarily observed as a time of repentance, the period formally designated for teshuva by the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18a) begins on Rosh Hashanah and extends through Yom Kippur. We might suggest that as Rosh Hashanah commemorates the day of Adam and Chava’s creation, it marks the onset of the period of intensive repentance because it reminds us of the essence of the human being, our inner spark of sanctity with which we were created. Teshuva means recognizing that as human beings endowed with a divine image, sin simply has no place in our conduct. On the day of the creation of the human being, we begin to reflect upon our potential, our capabilities and our capacity for greatness, and we then recognize how far short we have heretofore fallen from our potential. This recognition should then lead us to true repentance, to confessing our failings and committing ourselves to improving and closing the gap between who we are and who we could be. Teshuva, then, is not simply about acknowledging our failures, but also about acknowledging our inner potential, affirming that we are capable of being so much better, and resolving to take a step forward towards maximizing our capabilities.