By Adam Siegel
T'Shuvah, both as an action and a process, is a topic we talk about year-round here at Beit T'Shuvah. With the High Holy Days upon us, this topic tends to come to the forefront of many of our activities. As one of our community's foundational principles, it is not just talked about, but more so, it's a way of living that all of us (residents, staff, and community members) are encouraged/expected to engage in on a daily basis.
When I was younger, 't'shuvah' was singularly translated as 'repentance' and I mainly associated it as an act of turning away from someone/thing/behaviors that were harmful. Since then, I've learned that, as much as it's about turning away, it's also about what one is turning towards. While this may seem obvious, it's an aspect that's continues to be a challenge for me as I strive to live a spiritually-oriented life. I've learned that if you don't know what you're turning towards, you'll likely end up just turning around in circles. Whether out of blinding fear or sheer obliviousness, there are times I find myself dis-connected with the higher ideals, which I can potentially manifest through my actions. It is these higher ideals (i.e. love, honesty, truth, etc...) that one needs to connect to in order to move the t'shuvah process along. Accordingly, it's been the times when I've had the strength and/or grace to acknowledge my Higher potential that I've been able to openly acknowledge my missteps.
Conversely, this sense of disconnection (from my spiritual potential) provides me with the grounds for giving up or neglecting to push further along on the path of t'shuvah. Feeling like I'm unable to recognize where I'm going or what I stand for, I'm content to stay put and "wait" until things become clearer. While this may occasionally be a productive short-term strategy, it usually becomes an impediment and a way to justify my apathy.
In last week's Torah portion, the text actually describes two types of T’Shuvah; one the Israelites can engage in while in exile from the Promised Land of Israel and the other upon their eventual return to the land. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandatory Palestine, makes a distinction between these two types of t'shuvah; actually describing the former as an inherently incomplete form.** In his mind, t'shuvah, as a process of spiritual return, is only fully possible (for the Israelites) while they reside in the Land of Israel. However, he goes on to say, that t'shuvah is nevertheless an essential activity which the Israelites needed to pursue whether in exile or not. He describes why, even in its incompleteness, it is necessary to engage in t'shuvah because it serves to get us just a little bit closer to being ready for spiritual completeness. My take away from this is the encouragement to walk forward along a path of t'shuvah, regardless of not knowing exactly what I'm moving towards or even if it's ultimately possible to make the return that I'm seeking. The spiritual growth that may occur while walking along this path can be considered an investment in allowing me to experience a more wholly (holy?) complete return in the future.
**Gold from the Land of Israel: A New Light on the Weekly Torah Portion from the Writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook by Rabbi Chanan Morrison