A few weeks ago, as my wife was relaxing on the sofa after putting the children to bed for the night, I was seized by the urge to do something thoughtful. As I was walking to the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea for her, she called to me and asked, "Would you mind getting me a tea?"

I made the tea, but I lost much of my enthusiasm in doing so.

There's something special, a particular genuineness, about an unsolicited and unexpected act. It's a more accurate reflection of who you really are and what you really want to be doing. After my wife's request, the tea suddenly became another chore — instead of the expression of care I intended it to be.

The tasks demanded by our relationship with G‑d don't leave much room for impromptu outbursts of loveBut where does that leave us with regards to our relationship with G‑d? Our relationship with Him is scripted from the moment we rub our eyes open in the morning until the moment we shut them for the night. The tasks demanded by this relationship — all 613 of them — seemingly don't leave much room for improvisation, for impromptu and original outbursts of care and love. You want to compliment Him — great, you are just fulfilling your requirement to pray. You want to give Him something special, maybe a nice donation to the synagogue — nice, but you have just satisfied your obligation to give charity.

Luckily we do have the ability to express ourselves in the course of this all-important relationship. The uncharted part of our relationship is called teshuvah, loosely translated as repentance.

Many a Torah scholar has pondered the reason why Maimonides omits teshuvah from the list of Torah commandments which he compiled. He merely states that when a person does teshuvah, he is obligated to orally confess the sins for which he is repenting. Many explanations have been offered; perhaps the most unique of them all by the noted thinker, the Minchat Chinuch, who maintains that teshuvah is wholly optional. He posits that the Torah only requires us to confess if we do teshuvah, much as we are commanded to slaughter an animal if we desire to eat meat — but eating meat per se is not obligatory.

An understanding of the nature of teshuvah sheds light on its anomalous nature. Accurately translated, teshuvah means "return." Teshuvah is about returning and reconnecting with one's inner self, one's very essence. At the core of every Jew there is a soul which is a burning coal of love for G‑d, a soul whose only desire is to connect to its Creator and serve Him dutifully. Connecting with one's true self, and thus revealing the awesome relationship which one shares with G‑d, automatically cleanses one of all sins, and is the starting point of a new chapter in life, a chapter dominated by new goals and priorities.

With this understanding, it is clear that teshuvah cannot be a commandment. Teshuvah is the ultimate expression of one's self — and following a command is not the truest expression of self.

Teshuvah also adds a personal touch to the observance of all the mitzvot. After a proper teshuvah, it suddenly becomes glaringly obvious that every mitzvah is exactly what you would wish to be doing at the appropriate moment.