Quotations on Teshuvah (Repentance), Tefilah (Prayer), and Tzedakah (Righteous Giving)
The Unetaneh Tokef prayer acknowledges the role of fate and destiny, which we can neither predict nor control. Yet, it also asserts the power of free will. We decide how to live our days; we write with our own hand in the Book of Life. Any decree or destiny – even death – still affords us the opportunity to choose how we will respond. The concluding words of the prayer assert that three particular responses –repentance, prayer, and righteous giving – make even a severe decree more bearable and more benign. The following are quotations about these three powerful spiritual balms..
“On Rosh Hashanah the decree is written. On the fast of Yom Kippur, the record is sealed. How many shall leave this world, and how many shall be born into it? Who shall live and who shall die? Who shall enjoy the length of years, and who shall die young? Who shall perish by fire and who by waer? Who by sward and who by beast? Who by hunger and who by thirst? Who by earthquake and who by plague? Who by strangling and who by stoning? Who shall rest, and who shall wander? Who shall be at peace, and who tormented? Who shall be poor, and who rich? Who shall be humbled, and who exalted?
“But repentace, prayer, and righteous giving avert the severity of the decree.” –Unetaneh Tokef Prayer, High Holiday Machzor.
"One who does teshuvah is considered as if he went to Jerusalem, rebuilt the Temple, erected the altar, and offered all the sacrifices ordained by the Torah. [For the Psalm says], 'The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise [51:19]'" – Leviticus Rabbah 7:2
"God remains close, even when we become distant." – Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
"A person who truly wants to purify himself receives assistance from heaven." – Talmud Shabbat 104a
"The Holy One, blessed be God, said to Israel: 'My children, present to me a single opening of repentance, small like the eye of a needle, and I will open for you entrances through which wagons and carriages can pass.'" –Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:3
"To bring another to repentance, I go down all the steps until I reach his level. Then I bind the roots of my soul to the roots of his soul, and together our souls repent." –Rabbi Zusya of Anipol
"Teshuvah is something more than the accounting of the rights and wrongs in a person’s life. Teshvuah is the expression of the world’s existential yearning to come closer to God." –Rabbi David Samson
“The sins we commit, these are not the worst thing. After all, temptation is powerful, and man is weak. The great crime of man is that he could turn at any time, and does not.” –Rabbi Simcha Bunim Bonhart
“To have found God is not an end but in itself a beginning.” –Franz Rosenzweig
"How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what had been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day. Of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this. It costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn’t know it must learn and find by experience that: 'A quiet conscience makes one strong.'" – Anne Frank
The subject of Teshuvah (repentance) is covered extensively on the CD Transformation Now. Track 8 of that CD is specifically on the subject of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer.“Ways in” to prayer, explanations for High Holiday prayers, and masterful examples of ‘davening’ are provided on the CD Reb Zalman Prays.
"Prayer without the heart is like a body without the spirit." –Bachya ibn Pakuda
"Prayer is acceptable only when the soul is offered with it, [literally, when one puts one's soul in one's hand]." – Talmud Ta’anit 8a
"Whenever there rises in your heart a joyous thought, a feeling of happiness, a sense of love for the Torah, that moment is auspicious for prayer." –Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover
"Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow callousness, hatred, opportunism, and lies." –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
"Before prayer, feel the need and the joy of prayer." –Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
“Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God…. Prayer may not save us, but prayer makes us worth saving.” –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
“Rise to pray only in a respectful, solemn frame of mind. The early pious ones used to tarry one hour preparing to pray, so that they could direct their hearts to the Omnipresent.” –Mishnah Berachot 5:1
“Whatever one implants firmly in the mind becomes the essential thing. So if you pray and offer a blessing to God, or if you wish your intention to be true, imagine that you are light. All around you – in every corner and on every side – is light.” – Sha’ar Hakavannah (attributed to Rabbi Azriel of Gerona)
“Align your will with Divine will.” –Mishnah Avot 2:4
“All things pray, and all things exhale their souls… Creation is itself but a sweetness and a longing, a sort of prayer to the Almighty, blessed be God.” –Micah Joseph Berdichevsky
"Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers....Pray for powers equal to your tasks." --Rev. Phillips Brooks
"The word lehitpalel, to pray, means [in its reflexive form] to make yourself think, as it says, "re'oh panecha lo fitalti -- I didn't think I would see your face" [Genesis 48:11].... The function of tefilah is not to "twist Hashem's arm".... It is to change ourselves. As much as we change ourselves, that is how much we deserve that Hashem answer our prayers, in order to encourage us to continue in this process."-- Rabbi Avigdor Miller
"The substance of language and the language of silence - that is prayer." --Elie Weisel
“Ways in” to prayer, explanations for High Holiday prayers, and masterful examples of ‘davening’ are provided on the CD
Reb Zalman Prays. Awe Always provides two explanations of the Shema, as well as an introduction to the prayer Hamelech. Compassion Constantly also has two tracks on the Shema prayer, as well as an introduction to Neilah.
“One who is gracious to the poor, lends to God.” – Proverbs 19:17
"If your ears are not open to the crying of the poor, then you will not hear God calling either." –Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
“Before giving tzedakah say: ‘I devote this charity from what the Infinite has given me. I give it so that the Infinite Mercy will fill me with love and awe…for it is this awareness that I desire from all my efforts in this world.’"— Rabbi Israel Jacobsen, Zichron Livnei Yisrael
“All beginnings require that you unlock new doors. The key is giving and doing. Give charity and do kindness.” Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
“If someone comes to you for assistance and you say to him, ‘God will help you,’ you become a disloyal servant of God. You have to understand that God has sent you to aid the needy and not to refer them back to God.”—the Lelover Rebbe
You shall surely give [interest-free loans to your brother and sister Jews who are poor, even if you suspect that they may not repay], and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to [them]; because on account of this thing Adonai your God shall bless you in all your works, and in all that you put your hand to.--Deuteronomy 15:10
“Though you may have given already, give yet again even a hundred times, for it says, ‘Give, surely give…’ [the word is repeated for emphasis in Deuteronomy 15:10].”—Sifrei
“It is taught in the name of Rabbi Joshua: ‘The poor man does more for the rich man than the rich man for the poor man.’”—Ruth Rabbah 5:9
“Bring all the tithes to the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test me now with that, says Adonai of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour for you an overflowing blessing.” – Malachi 3:10
"Strange is our situation here on earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That [We Are] Here for the Sake of Others... for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon labors of my fellow[s], both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving." --Albert Einstein
Tzedakah, in the broadest sense of giving, is addressed throughout the CD
The Freedom to Choose How We Respond
"Everything is foreseen, yet free will is granted. And the world is judged with goodness. And everything is in accordance with the preponderance of human deeds." --Mishnah Avot 3:19
“We must believe in free will. We have no choice.” –Isaac Bashevis Singer
“Then you shall remember Adonai Your God, the One who gave you strength.” (Deuteronomy 8:18). Rabbi Bachya teaches that koach, strength, refers to koach hamazalot, the power of the stars. [In this verse from Deuteronomy,] we are told that Jews are immune from astrological influences, even if the destiny of the other nations is influenced by the stars. Every Jew, individually and as a community, has in his hands complete koach, power, over astrological influences; he can exercise this power by three virtuous actions of teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer), and tzedakah (good deeds). –Rabbi Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah.
For more quotes on the will and freedom to repent,