Or Rose: Following on the last piece of the conversation, I would like to invite you to reflect further
on teshuvah as a group experience, whether as
a family, synagogue, corporation, or government.
Jeff Helmreich: We now have corporations
and countries that are apologizing and forgiving
one another as institutions. Forgiveness and repentance in general are not states of mind. An
individual can’t say, “I hereby apologize to you
and guarantee that from now on I will have a
properly remorseful state of mind.” Old bitter-nesses bubble up and return. Rather, repentance
and, for that matter, teshuvah and forgiveness,
are commitments — the kind of thing that we
endeavour to do and we renew all the time. For
that reason, groups and countries can do it as
well. The ritual of repenting and then having the
commitment to teshuvah in place is a stance
that we adopt, not a feeling that overtakes us.
David Ingber: The Rambam asserts that true
teshuvah is when one comes back to the same
place and acts differently in a similar situation.
There is a notion that even contemplating
teshuvah can turn a rasha, someone who’s
done evil, into someone who tips the whole
world in the direction of good and compassion.
Michelle Friedman: I think Jeff is saying that
teshuvah has to have a starting point — a discreet X and Y coordinate — that will be part of
a larger arc. And David, you’re saying that we
have to begin with at least a seed of repentance
that will grow into something larger.
In psychotherapy, we look at the individual
experience as it’s housed within a communal
or authority-driven, tradition-driven experience.
We’d ask: Who is the locus of authority? What
is the role of transference in the teshuvah
experience? Is it to a sense of God or to some
other agency outside of the self? What are the
goals of the personally driven efforts in
teshuvah Are they limited to the realm of relieving
personal suffering? Or is there a goal that relates to a larger sense? How much do the
processes of psychotherapy and teshuvah
overlap and how much are they parallel?
Sue Fendrick: The comparison between psychotherapy and teshuvah actually points to one
of the reservations I have about the notion of
collective teshuvah. Teshuvah has to be done by
an actor, an agent. Though there can be
teshuvah-dik, teshuvah-orientated, teshuvah-inspired
conversations on a communal level, there needs
to be an agent of change. It’s hard to imagine
the Jewish people going into therapy.
David Ingber: As useful as that might be.
Sue Fendrick: We need to distinguish between a teshuvah-orientated process and the
actual work of teshuvah. What does it mean to
say that a group has done teshuvah Though
there are behavioral aspects of teshuvah that
can be manifest in a group, I can’t imagine how
the internal work would be accomplished by a
Today, there are tribunals in Rwanda in which people are being
forced to confront victims and one another, and formally admit,
forgive, and resolve to reconcile. This type of legal, institutional
process takes time to filter down to the individual.
Jeff Helmreich: As a proponent of the collective teshuvah model, reconciliation in a place
like South Africa illustrates what might be meant
by collective teshuvah. When we investigate
those processes, it turns out that they involve a
lot of the fundamental teachings of teshuvah,
like committing to change, or acknowledging
and taking responsibility for doing wrong; adopting a stance of regret, and acting toward the victim as someone who owes the victim penance.
These are fundamental features of
teshuvah, and it turns out that they translate remarkably well on the collective institutional
level. It doesn’t feel the same; there are differences, and yet the various stances we adopt,
the commitment, the public acknowledgements
can be performed at a collective level. This
model can work when there are groups that
have been aggrieved — even while we agree
that it is ultimately just a model.
Sue Fendrick: In the South African situation, to the extent that we’re talking about a
government or state, there is an agent or an
actor saying, “We, this state of South Africa,
has committed wrongs and we, as a state, are
seeking to undo those wrongs.” This doesn’t
mean that every member of that collectivity is
brought along in the teshuvah process. When
we say collective teshuvah, how do we understand the relationship between the individual
and the collectivity?
Beyond the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard what South Africa
as an entity did wrong, was the fact that individual people told their stories and individuals
apologized for the wrongs they committed. It’s
worth noting the relationship of individual and
collective teshuvah and change, how they might
work together, and how they may be in conflict.
When Barack Obama was elected president,
something fundamentally shifted in the United
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