Teshuvah (Repentance)


The aim of my talk is to explore the issue of repentance in the broadest way and to discuss its relevance to human consciousness.

Though the word Teshuvah has an honorable and well defined place within the Jewish tradition and the concept of repentance can be found in most other religions, it is by no means only a religious concept.

Repentance belongs to man and is closely related to the concept of growth and normal human development. In the language of psychology there is a much used concept which resonates quite closely with the idea of repentance and it is the word Reparation - Reparation is usually opposed to guilt.

When we think of reparation, we are referring to an attempt to make better something that we have damaged or that has been damaged. As we live our lives we cannot help destroying as well as creating.

These creative and destructive forces are mirrored in our minds, in our thoughts, in our feelings and in our actions. This is not just true of fully developed adults. You can see this very same phenomenon in very tiny babies. If one looks carefully at a baby over a protracted period one can notice its changes of moods in its relation to itself, to the breast and to his mother. As the infant grows, his mind and awareness expands gradually taking in more and more of the surrounding world. If we take a snapshot of a child in the kindergarten, we will notice these creative and destructive forces in operation quite clearly. The process of education is an integral part of the process of socialization of human beings. The adults teach the children how to contain and direct the powerful forces that are within them and how to express them in a way that is acceptable to the people and society that surrounds them.

This is an ongoing process which will be refined and re-defined as an individual's life unfolds and his encounters in the world shape his inner life.

From a certain point of view it could be argued that the whole of psychotherapy is a process of repentance. When a person makes the decision to come into therapy it is a transformative and profound decision. Though he might not know at the time, he has made a choice. The choice is to follow a path that leads ultimately to the goal of becoming a whole man or indeed a whole woman. 

In order to achieve this a person has to follow what in Kaballah is known as the path of the Zaddik; the path of honesty. It is through honesty of mind that a man knows himself. An honest mind embraces honest thoughts, honest words and honest deeds. This is how a man becomes consonant. He becomes consistent, and he reaches deeper levels of himself which are a closer and more faithful reflection of who he really is.

The perusal of the path of honesty of mind is essentially what psychotherapy is about; the search for the real self. It is couched in a different language all of its own but at its most basic this is it's aim. 

To try and explain in this context how psychotherapy works I will borrow from four ideas presented to us by Judaism.

The first idea is the idea of Tikkun Olam. The idea of the reparation of the world which is so closely associated with the notion of Mitzvot. As a psychologist I agree wholeheartedly with this idea of a world that needs repairing. I am referring to our inner world, our inner being, yours and mine. As a committed and practising psychotherapist my interpretation of Tikkun Olam is to help myself and fellow beings to become aligned with their true nature. All my mitzvot as a psychotherapist point in this direction.

This brings me to the second idea The Gathering of the Holy Spark. This idea has been used successfully to attract many lapsed Jews back to Judaism. This idea is essentially about making something whole. Restoring to someone their integrity. This restoration of integrity is something that concerns me deeply. I am well aware that I cannot restore someone else's integrity. I can only try and do that for myself and in doing so I am encouraging those people who come into contact with me to move in the same direction. This is the natural direction, the direction towards wholeness. To become whole, to make our world whole we need to know and recognise all our scattered parts and then bring them together in a coherent whole. Many of these sparks lied buried in the depths of the sea of the unconscious part of the mind. To secure these pearls one has to go far out into sea and dive deep. This is a gradual process of taking on increased responsibilities for who we are, not who we think we are, but who we really are.

The third idea that I will focus on is the idea of Shalom Bait, peace in the home. I see this notion as the heart of the therapeutic process. Someone who is at peace at home is someone who is at home and at peace everywhere. This peace in the home or peace in the heart is not achieved easily, it is something that we have to strive for. We must make an effort in this direction. The way we make the effort is by Gathering the Holy Sparks. By loving, forgiving, taking responsibility and nurturing all our dispirited parts we achieve peace, we are no longer at war with ourselves, we are one whole "Ehad".

This brings me to the fourth idea, the idea of the Messiah. I first heard of this idea from my grandfather when I was a little boy in short trousers. He told me that we were awaiting the coming of the Messiah and when He came there was going to be peace in the world, the wolf and the sheep would lie by each other in trust and friendship, wars would be over and paradise would return to earth.

As I grew up I learned another startling truth, that contrary to popular belief, life happens from the inside outwards. Out of the imagination of the heart come the issues of life.

What we imagine in our hearts is very important as it defines the direction of our life and our sense of identity. So a peaceful heart is the necessary herald of the coming of the Messiah and a necessary consequence of Tikkun Olam, the reparation which leads to Atonement - AT ONE-MENT.

I dedicate this paper to my son, Thomas Nissim, in grateful recognition for his gift of inspiration.