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Apologies for the seemingly simple question, but I feel it is appropriate for this time of year.

How do we actually do it? I know the Rambam says Regret, Confess, and Resolve, but I also know that Shaarei Teshuva has a much lengthier process. I am sure there are other sources too. So. my question is, if someone asked you how to do teshuva, what would you tell them, and what would you source?

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  • There are many pesukim in the Torah that speak about teshuva and its efficacy.
    – Yehuda
    Sep 13, 2021 at 14:03
  • you're right it was not clear. I am going to edit to focus on number 2.
    – yisrael
    Sep 13, 2021 at 14:06
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    Teshuva to me is less about lip service (acknowledging guilt, confessing sin) and more about changing your actions. What good is telling God you're sorry when you have no intention of changing or make no honest effort in improving your behavior? "Actions speak louder than words".
    – ezra
    Sep 13, 2021 at 15:08
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    @ezra Teshuvah is all about "lip service". Changing your actions is required even if there were no teshuvah: You are required to keep the Torah even if you didn't keep it yesterday. Teshuvah is about rebuilding your relationship with G-d. Changing one's actions without talking to G-d about it would work as well as it would work with one's wife. It's a start, a necessary start, but you need to complete it by rebuilding the relationship.
    – MichoelR
    Sep 13, 2021 at 20:45
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    @ezra "Unless one could prove there is an obligation to confess your sins before God". What about Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Teshuvah 1:1 ("If a person transgresses any of the mitzvot of the Torah, whether a positive command or a negative command - whether willingly or inadvertently - when he repents, and returns from his sin, he must confess before God, blessed be He ... This confession is a positive command)?
    – Tamir Evan
    Sep 15, 2021 at 4:43

3 Answers 3

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There really is no conflict between the Rambam and Sha'arei Teshuva. People tend to overlook a key paragraph in the beginning of Sha'arei Teshuva:

And behold that there are many levels of repentance. It is true that you will find forgiveness for any repentance. However the soul will only find complete purification - to be as if the iniquities never had been - when a person purifies his heart and prepares his spirit, as will be explained. And so is it written (Psalms 32:2), "Happy is the man whom the Lord does not hold guilty, and in whose spirit there is no deceit." And it is like the matter of a garment that needs washing: For a little washing will be effective to remove its soiling. However, it will [only] whiten according to the amount of washing. And so is it written there (Psalms 51:4), "Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity.

In other words, the immediate and basic act of repentance does remove the sin, however, more repentance is needed to completely remove all its effects. This is the regret, confession, and resolve. (As an aside, it is not clear that the Sha'arei Teshuva requires verbal confession.)

I saw in a sefer about the Chofetz Chaim a rabbi who was going to South Africa asked him what he could tell the people in the name of the Chofetz Chaim. He replied: "Tell them teshuva is a simple matter, regret over the past and resolve for the future, but the yetzer hara makes it look difficult."

And finally, there is a much shorter essay by Rabbeinu Yonah called Yesod Hateshuva that is printed in many Rosh Hashana Machzorim that gives a more basic guide for the person on the day he chooses to do teshuva. [In that essay he says not to think about the past. This would seem to contradict much of Sha'arei Teshuva, but I think the difference is that to immediately break one's habit, it is better to ignore the past. Later, one can do a more thorough teshuva when the actual habit is broken.]

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I guess I'll mention something that I have found to be controversial. People seem to think that teshuvah is synonymous with "working on yourself". You know, It's almost Yom Kippur, I should try to improve my davening, and maybe try a mussar seder, and think about feeling closer to Hashem. Beautiful things, but it isn't surprising that people are disappointed when Yom Kippur passed and they find it hard to hang on to whatever they decided to do.
It's no accident that the Rambam begins Hilchos Teshuvah with "All mitzvos of the Torah, positive or negative, if a man violated any one of them, on purpose or by mistake"
In the 7th chapter, he gets up to discussing doing teshuvah on one's character traits. But that takes a long time, as he detailed in his Hilchos Deios. You surely aren't going to finish before Yom Kippur, and he said it was a positive obligation to do teshuvah before Yom Kippur (2(7)).
Rather, the "usual" obligation of teshuvah is to seek out the short list of things where a person really messed up. Where he let himself down, where he can have real regret because these are things he would never normally do. Find those and fix them, make sure that they won't happen again. And apologize.
[Because people think of teshuvah in the first way I described, that's why I frequently hear drashos even by very big talmidei chachamim, telling people not to worry if they know perfectly well that they can't live up to their inspiration at Ne'ilah. That the Rambam says that the Master of Secrets knows that the person will never slip back, but that means that the person sincerely wants that, not that he will make it truly happen. And that in our generation, we just aren't so good at feeling regret...
But of course you can't really feel regret on something that is going to take you years to fix. And you can't honestly resolve to fix it in one minute at Neilah.]

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Maimonides put it this way: true teshuva is when a person abandons the wrong, resolves not to do it again, comes up with ways to correct the wrong, and makes new habits that assure that the wrong is not repeated. This, Rambam says, is true repentence.

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  • You skipped viduy?
    – MichoelR
    Sep 13, 2021 at 21:54
  • One can do teshuva even without prayer, although prayer is highly recommended.
    – Turk Hill
    Sep 13, 2021 at 21:55
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    If you're quoting the Rambam, don't skip that part. sefaria.org/… "What is repentence... he must confess by spoken words of his lips, and all that which he concluded in his heart shall be formed in speech."
    – MichoelR
    Sep 13, 2021 at 22:08

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