High Holidays 2017 Workbook

High Holiday Repentance Workbook 2017 / 5778

by Michael Lerner


To acknowledge our own screw-ups is an important first step. But the High Holidays are not about getting ourselves to feel guilty, but rather engaging in a process of change. If we don’t make those changes internally and in our communities and in our society, all the breast-beating and self-criticism become an empty ritual.

In many situations and relationships, you are not the only part of the problem—but for the sake of this process, it is your part that you are to focus on, not the part contributed by your partner, spouse, parents, children, friends, etc. Begin to work on your part during these ten days of repentance/teshuvah!

On these days, our focus is not on what others did to us, but on what we ourselves did to lessen our connection to our highest possible selves  and to our highest manifestation of the God-energy of the universe! Of course, we recognize that leading an ethically  and spiritually coherent life is extremely difficult in the midst of the competitive marketplace where so many people seem to be interested in advancing their own self-interest without regard to the consequences for others makes. We at Beyt Tikkun and with Tikkun magazine and the Network of Spiritual Progressives seek to change that—and we invite you to join us in so doing. But while we are stuck in this spirit-distorting reality, we still want to support each other to do as much as we possibly can to living the most holy lives, aspiring to be the most loving human being toward others and toward the planet Earth that we can possibly be, while being compassionate toward ourselves and others when we “miss the mark” (a.k.a. sin).

Think of the days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur as a “spiritual tune-up” in which we reconnect to our highest aspirations for ourselves and for everyone else in our lives—and make concrete plans on how to make that more real in this coming year. We call this process “t’shuvah” or repentance—coming back to our highest selves.

A first step: get yourself a “t’shuva buddy.” Each day starting with Rosh Hashanah you and your t’shuvah buddy check in with each other on how you are doing in going through the steps below and coming up with plans on how to make the specific changes that need to be made. Your t’shuvah buddy should not be your spouse or friends with whom you have issues to work out, and you need not tell this person exactly what you are working on internally, but only discuss the difficulties you may be having in going through this process, and then they do the same thing about their spiritual tune-up. Each take about 10 minutes per conversation to give support—but not to be or let them try to be your therapist or spiritual guide except to cheer you on to actually do this process!



Here are the issues you need to address. This is your spiritual transformation workbook!


What is spiritually out of alignment in my relationships with...



Problem                     What Do You Contribute To It







Spouse or Partner

















How spiritually nourishing is your work?

What have been the problems you've faced here? Have you had good relationships with co-workers? Have you felt fulfilled in your work? Have you been involved in collective efforts to change the workplace, or the union, or tried to organize, or have you felt powerless and unable to envision changing anything? If you were in a supervisory position, did you treat your supervisees with the respect that they deserve? Did you discharge anger from work by punishing yourself (e.g., through alcohol or drugs) or by dumping on friends or lovers-or did you express that anger at the appropriate targets or through collective action? Have you taken any of the steps to fight for a "new bottom line" at work? See www.spiritualprogressives.org  for ideas on how to do this.


Problem                     What Do You Contribute To It




Relationship to co-workers.




Relationship to supervisors or supervisees.







• How healthy were your coping mechanisms for stress at work?

• Did you inappropriately blame yourself, or dump anger inappropriately on others?

• What kind of political action did you take in relationship to work?


Did you care for your body this past year? If not, what didn’t you do that you should have done?






Clothing, Appearance, and Self-Presentation


Quiet Time or Meditation


  • Are you taking enough time to nourish your soul?


  • Did you care for your soul this past year? If not, what didn’t you do that you should have done? In what ways did you care for your soul this past year? In what ways did you neglect your soul? Did your soul give you any messages that you ignored? What were they?


  • Did you take time to read books that would have expanded your awareness of spiritual life? If not, what do you want to read this next year? Did you give yourself alone time for meditation, for prayer, or for walks in nature? Did you take the time to read other books that would have given you pleasure and joy? If not, what do you want to read this next year?


  • What courses did you take to expand your horizons? Did you consider evening or weekend courses in liberal arts or a new profession, art programs, Hebrew, Jewish studies, studying a new  or musical instrument, learning about another culture or philosophical tradition? What would you like to take this next year?


  • What pleasures did you give to yourself this year? Which do you want to expand or initiate this coming year? Did you allow yourself to go to art exhibits, plays, musical concerts, poetry readings, discussion groups, community political action activities, or other events that would have given you pleasure? What do you want to do in this regard in the next year?


  • In what ways did you explore your relationship with God or however you wish to name the spiritual dimension of consciousness this past year? In what ways did you ignore that dimension of life? Did you read any books, attend lectures or courses, or dedicate time to exploring the spiritual dimension of your life? Would you be willing to read (or reread) The Left Hand of God, Spirit Matters, The Politics of Meaning, Jewish Renewal, Embracing Israel/Palestine, or other spiritually enlivening books, and make a commitment now to doing so in the course of this coming year? Would you commit to coming to a once-a-month Torah study with Rabbi Lerner on a Saturday morning? Or try some other place of spiritual nourishment?


  • Are you giving real energy to tikkun olam, to healing and repairing the world?


  • Which of our society’s political, economic, or social institutions have destructive consequences to the environment, social justice, or our capacity to be loving and compassionate human beings? Have you challenged any of them in the public arena?


  • Are you actively challenging the worst policies of the Trump Administration and the new prominence of the anti-Semitism, racism and homophobia that have emerged on the Right? What concrete steps have you taken to be involved in struggles against racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, the assault on immigrants, the dismantling of health care, and/or the accelerating destruction of the environment and the dismantling of environmental and worker-rights protections? What will you personally do to change the status quo? Will you take the training for spiritual activists in the Trump years that is offered online at www.spiritualprogressives.org/training ? Will you support the Global Marshall Plan www.tikkun.org/gmp or the ESRA  Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment www.tikkun.org/esra . Will you become involved in efforts to end Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank and in the meantime in efforts to give Palestinians the same “one person/one vote” rights that we rightly fought for against South African apartheid and segregation in the US (though in the U.S. case, there has been a growing effort on the part of right-wingers to deny the poor and people of color their voting rights).  What concrete movements or actions will you be taking this coming year on these or other related Tikkun olam issues?
  • If you haven’t been involved, what were the reasons you gave yourself? Which of those reasons presupposed a “surplus powerlessness” (a way in which you were actually assuming yourself less able to initiate things or take leadership than is “objectively” true)? In what ways did you buy the message that “they will never listen,” or, “I can never get things to happen,” or, “I’m not powerful enough to start something so I’ll wait for someone else—like President Obama—to do it,” or, “Other people are not together enough, or too immoral, or too passive, so there’s no point in me trying to mobilize them,” or other similar messages?


  • If you tried to be involved, and had hassles or disappointments with other people in the process, what were those and what part did you have in making or sustaining them? What did you do to confront the problems directly? Would you be open to working with the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), Tikkun, Beyt Tikkun, the One Campaign, the School of the Americas Watch, 350.org, the B’Tselem (Israeli Human Rights Organization), J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Pax Christi, Zen Peacemakers, Evangelicals for Social Action, UUA, Baptist Peace Fellowship, or some other national organization doing work with ideals in which you can believe, and which one will you commit to now and actually stick with that commitment?


  • Did you help build a connection to Judaism and the Jewish world or to whatever spiritual tradition or discipline makes sense to you?


  • How much did you seek to deepen your knowledge of Judaism, Jewish history, Jewish texts, or the culture of the Jewish people or of Israel? Or of whatever other religious tradition or spiritual discipline speaks to you? What opportunities were there and what were the reasons you gave yourself for why this year wasn’t the right time? Will you make time for this in this New Year?


  • Did you allow yourself to take twenty-five hours out of your busy schedule each week to observe Shabbat or some similar weekly spiritual practice in a traditional way? Did you meditate, pray, say the prayer of forgiveness before going to sleep, or do some other daily spiritual practice? How fulfilling or spiritually deep did you allow it to be? If it wasn’t, what explanations did you give yourself for why it wasn’t working? What could you personally do to make that spiritual practice or some other spiritual practice work for you on a daily or at least a weekly basis?


  • If  you’ve gotten down to here, you’ve taken the first step. Now the challenge is to make the time to go through each of these and make solid commitments (and write them down) about the changes you are prepared to make in your life to be more fully the healthiest and most fully evolved human being you could possibly be at this stage of your life! And then write a note to yourself about what those changes are going to be, make a copy to send in a sealed envelope to Rabbi Lerner, 951 Cragmont Ave, Berkeley, Ca. 94708.  He will not open them but hold them for you till next Rosh Hashanah.  Keep the other copy to re-read each morning. This is the practice that will take you toward a wonderfully fulfilling New Year 5778!

*** *** ***

The Spiritual Practice of Forgiveness

 Every night before going to sleep or every morning before engaging in your various tasks, projects or interactions with others, review your life, recall who you feel has hurt or betrayed you and toward whom you are still holding resentment or anger. Then, find a quiet and safe place to say this out loud:

YOU, my ETERNAL FRIEND, Yud Hey Vav Hey, Shechinah, Adonai (or whatever name you give to the God or the spiritual energy of the universe), THE POWER OF TRANSFORMATION AND HEALING IN THE UNIVERSE, WITNESS now that:

 I forgive anyone who hurt or upset me or who offended me

…..by damaging my body, my property, my reputation, hurting my feelings, shaming me, undermining my friendships or hurting my income or scaring me or making me angry  or damaging people that I love — whether by accident or purposely — with words, deeds, thoughts, or attitudes. I will continue to fight against social and economic institutions that oppress me or others, or hurt the earth’s life-support system, but I will not do so with hatred in my heart but only love for those who have been wounded and empathy for those who have acted unjustly or destructively..

I think particularly of ________ (fill in here anyone in your life who may have done some of the above).  I forgive (name each person) and every person who has hurt or upset me, whether or not I can remember them at this moment.May no one be punished because of me. May no one suffer from karmic consequences for hurting or upsetting me.

Help me, Eternal Friend, the spiritual energy of the universe, to keep from offending You and others. Whatever sins I have committed, blot out, please, in Your abundant kindness, and spare me suffering or harmful illnesses. Help me become aware of the ways I may have unintentionally or intentionally hurt others, and please give me guidance and strength to rectify those hurts — and to develop the sensitivity to not continue acting in a hurtful way.

Let me forgive others — let me forgive myself — but also let me change in ways that make it easy for me to avoid paths of hurtfulness to others.

I seek peace, let me BE peace. ***I seek justice, let me be just. ***I seek a world of kindness, let me be kind. ***I seek a world of generosity, let me be generous with all that I have and to everyone I encounter in my life and to those whom I do not encounter but who need my help. ***I seek a world of sharing, let me share all that I have. ***I seek a world of love — let me be loving beyond all reason, beyond all normal expectation, beyond all societal frameworks that tell me how much love is “normal,” — beyond all fear that giving too much love will leave me with too little. Let me be overflowing with love toward others.

And let me be open, aware, sensitive and receptive to all the love that is already coming to me: *** the love of people I know, ***the love of the universe that that pours through all being and sustains life on this planet (also known as the love of God/dess for all Her creatures*** the love that is part of the human condition--the accumulated love of past generations that flows through and is embodied in the language, music, literature, art, agriculture & recipes for cooking or preparing food, technology, religions, agriculture, and family heritages that have been passed on to me and to us. Let me pass that love on to the next generations in an even fuller and more conscious way.

I commit to act lovingly in all my interactions, and to use some of my energy to participate in activities aimed at tikkun: transforming and healing our society and saving human and animal life on the planet. So this week or next I will___________________(fill in something concrete you will do to bring any part of the intentions you have just expressed come to fruition or at least start the path toward becoming the kind of person you really want to be).

Source of goodness and love in the universe, let me be alive to all the goodness that surrounds me. And let that awareness of the goodness and love of the universe be my shield and protector. And let it give me the energy I need to engage in the struggles that must take place to transform our economic, religious, and political systems, our media and our educational systems, our science and our technology, our legal system and our government, and all other practices and institutions including my own profession and work place, so that they reward and give sustenance to (rather than undermine) our capacities for love, kindness, generosity, and compassion. And let me bring to these struggles a spirit of generosity, love, forgiveness, and open-heartedness.


Hear the words of my mouth and may the meditations of my heart find acceptance before You, Eternal Friend, the spiritual energy of the universe, the Force of Transformation and Healing, who protects and frees me. Amen.

Composed for Beyt Tikkun Synagogue by RabbiLerner.Tikkun@gmail.com--inspired by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z’l)  Please become members of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls this year if you haven’t already joined or rejoined as part of registering from High Holidays. And please send this out to your Facebook and other social media to give them a taste of what kind of thinking they might encounter should they join you for High Holidays. www.beyttikkun.org/hhd


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *