“We have a concept called teshuva. Often it’s translated as penitence or repentance, but that’s not the real translation. Teshuva means return, when we return to become our true selves.
“The best way I can explain it is from the world of art. Let’s take a great sculpture — Michelangelo’s David. There are two ways of explaining Michelangelo’s greatness. One way is to say that Michelangelo created David out of nothing. What a brilliant sculptor!
“The other way of explaining it is that actually David was always inside that slab of stone. Michelangelo’s greatness was he knew what to remove in order to reveal David who was always there.
“That is our concept of teshuva. We need to continuously engage in a process through which we peel away the unnecessary parts of our personalities and characters so that I can reveal the real me.
“So often I define my existence through striving to become the person I think others would like me to be. In our tradition I think it is important that I should become the person God wants me to be, the person I’m supposed to be.
“What is that really? Well, I need to work it out for myself who the true me is and to enjoy being that person. And as a result, through concentrating on myself, I can make a major impact on society.
“There’s that wonderful message which was written around about the year 1100 by an unknown monk who said, ‘At the beginning of my life I tried to change the world. And after many years of trying, I didn’t succeed, so then I decided to change my nation. And then after many years, I didn’t succeed at that. And then I tried to change my town and didn’t succeed at that. And then I tried to change my family. I had no luck. And by the time now that I’m an old man, I’ve decided to change myself and that’s going really well. And so I’ve realized that I’ve wasted my life. I really should have started out life trying to change myself. And had I changed myself, that would have made a direct impact on my family. And my family in turn would have made that positive impact on my town. And my town upon my nation. And my nation upon the world.’
“And that’s what our religion teaches. We can change the world if we change ourselves. If we are responsible towards our real selves.”
–Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (born 1956) is an Orthodox rabbi who serves as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. He is a Talmudic scholar having studied in Israeli yeshivot. He was born near Johannesburg, South Africa. He currently lives with his wife in Finchley, London. In December 2012 he was designated as the next Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and began work in this post on 1 September 2013. He was Senior Rabbi to the Finchley Synagogue, regarded to be a strongly pastoral leader, with a focus on traditional Judaism. He previously served as the Chief Rabbi of Ireland.