How do we change our life’s course without negating the past? What happens if there is no one who can grant forgiveness? And, perhaps most difficult of all, how can we forgive ourselves without at the same time excusing our actions?
These questions and more are explored through a series of dialogues between a very unusual Ba’al Teshuvah and his rabbi. Ovadya ben Malka, a former member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando in search of atonement, originally approached Rav David Ish-Shalom to be his judge. However, the rabbi soon stepped out of that role, becoming mentor, confidant, and healer. But for Rav Ish-Shalom’s wisdom and compassion, Ovadya’s story would have had a very different ending.
Ovadya’s story is told in detail in Returning. However, this discussion guide stands on its own: the included dialogues can be read and pondered without reference to the rest of the story.
Each discussion topic focuses on a particular dialogue between Ovadya and the rabbi, supplemented with sources from Jewish texts. Each topic is followed by a few questions to get the discussion going.
Ovadya’s story is proof that Teshuvah is always possible. Even in the case of acts committed under coercion; even when we don’t know whether we had a choice; and even when the wrong can never be put right.
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