By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Approximately 25 years ago I was learning with Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man and he taught my class that Judaism is about questions. In fact, he asked us all one particular question: “What is the question that this experience is the answer for?” I was dumb-struck by this concept. Rabbi Omer-Man, a brilliant, wise, deeply spiritual and intellectual human being, went on to say that we have to ask ourselves: “What is the question our life is the answer to?” This blew me away! In these 25+ years, I have asked and answered this question myself many times and asked others these questions often as well.
This mode of thinking has changed my life in so many ways and I remain deeply grateful and in awe of Rabbi Jonathan. I realize that this is the same question that God asks us, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches in his essay Religion in a Free Society, “What is life getting out of you?” Both of these questions haunt me daily! Yet, I remain committed to answering them and in moving my actions, thoughts and feelings one grain of sand forward.
Here is an example: What is the question that T’Shuvah is the answer to? I have thought about this for so long and, while I don’t have all the questions, here are a few.
1) How do I learn to live with my own imperfections? This question helps me understand and accept that I am imperfect and perfection is not my quest. Rather, I begin to accept my place, my foibles and my goodness/greatness. I also am able to accept the mundane and the holy that I create, live and am in the presence of everyday.
2) Is repair really possible? This was and is the most challenging question for me and most of the people I know. Can I repair old wounds in myself and the ones I have caused in others? My answer is YES! Yet, I wonder at times if people really accept my T’Shuvahs and truly forgive me. I also realize that my wondering is my own self-doubt, which leads me to a third question that T’Shuvah is the answer to.
3) Can I really change? This question reminds me that society believes ‘a leopard doesn't change its spots.’ This is such an anti-Jewish belief to me. It goes against our entire Torah and Bible. When I ask myself this question, I realize the myriad of ways I have changed since I was born. This question forces me to confront another question.
4) Am I willing to change? This is the crux of the matter for me. I have to be willing to not only admit I erred, I have to be willing to say I can change and do better and live better and experience the pain I brought to another. Here is where the rubber meets the road. I had a Rabbi tell me that when he heard about me, he had to decide whether to meet with or not, he had to ask himself: “Do I believe what I preach each High Holiday about T’Shuvah?” It was a fascinating discussion we had. Yet, I also have to ask myself: Am I willing to do what is necessary to change each day?
5) Are the interests of others my concerns? This is a quote from Rabbi Heschel. T’Shuvah is the answer to this question because if the interests of others are not my concerns, I will say I am sorry and not change. I will not care enough to really repair the inner damage I have caused to another. I will only “get the heat off”.
These are a few of the questions that I have responded with over the years and continue to when asking “What is the question T’Shuvah is the answer for?”
Being Addicted to Redemption compels me to keep asking the right questions. It forces me to look at myself and others for who they are, not who I want them/me to be. It gifts me with the ability to constantly improve my life, repair my damages, improve the lives of others and help them repair their damages and, most of all, forgive and reconnect to myself, others and God.