Can we do Teshuvah for acts committed under compulsion? Should we be denied the healing power of Teshuvah, just because we aren’t actually guilty? Even in the absence of responsibility, the need for atonement can be met. We feel contaminated by being brought to the point of ultimate helplessness, but healing comes from our learning to take responsibility for our own lives from this point on. We feel guilty for living through our own deaths, but healing comes from the ability to partake of life and give life as much and as selflessly as possible.
Teshuvah is, among other things, a process of reaching closure and healing. In wronging another, we dealt a blow to our relationships—our connection to ourselves, to our community or society, and to our relationship with God. Reaching closure means healing these wounds. But what if we can’t ask for forgiveness because those we wronged are no longer alive?
Returning explores the boundaries between right and wrong, choice and choicelessness—and what happens when we cross those boundaries. It challenges notions of black and white, and calls into question the sovereignty of death itself.
Elul is called “the season of reconciliation.” It is a time of quiet, when our crops have been planted and are nearing harvest. We are reminded that the deeds and thoughts that we have sown among each other are also coming to fruition.
Teshuvah means it is never too late! We always have the option of stepping outside of time, of finding the one thread that needs to be pulled to change our course. We have an innate ability to bend time to our will. If ever there was a season to prove it, it is now!
Free download: Discussion topics on T’shuvah as healing. Returning: Reflections & Resources on Teshuvah explores some of the difficulties and dilemmas facing those who seek to heal the wounds of their own souls—especially self-inflicted wounds. These topics are explored through a series of dialogues between a former member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando and a rabbi.
A subconscious thought becomes explicit when it is articulated in speech. Things unspoken—and unspeakable—may have tremendous influence on an individual. A nightmare may shape one’s outward thoughts and feelings far beyond what we can ever be aware of. Until we can articulate the nightmare, and bring it into conscious awareness, we have no control over it. So it is with Teshuvah, and so it is with the Geulah.
In Teshuvah, we go through some of the same stages as in mourning, but it is for ourselves that we mourn—for the loss of our better selves, for our mistakes and their consequences. Eventually, we reach a stage where all the regret, despair, grief, and longing to make right can find expression. We express the inner turmoil and make it concrete and real, and at the same time reach closure with it. We acknowledge our mistakes and their consequences, our wrong-turns and blind allies, and by speaking them aloud, we take possession of them.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the common factor: What does recovery from trauma have to do with these three things: teshuvah; bringing a disturbing dream to Birkhat Hakohanim; and the Jewish people’s national redemption.”
Needless to say I accepted the mission…