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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Teshuvah | September 24, 2023 Rev Dr. Kathryn Benton



Rabbi Samuel Tamaras wrote, "The shofar is surely the appropriate instrument for proclaiming the advent of the Jubilee Year on the Day of Atonement, for it is associated with the most exalted of biblical events: the giving of the torah (the protocols of the 'beloved community') and the day of emancipation of the enslaved. The shofar is an instrument whose very sound plants within the human heart a passion for truth and healing justice."


The opening call of the shofar and the words from Rabbi Tamaras remind us of the second of the two main High Holy Days in the Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). Rabbi Tamaras points out that this is the declaration of the year of Jubilee…the time for the emancipation of the enslaved and the return of the land to its rightful “owner”, which is the Creator. It was a time when fields were meant to “rest”. It is also a time of reflection on the past and planning for the future…with the protocols of the ‘beloved community’ laid out before us. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb sees these protocols in a context of reparations, or the Jewish process of teshuvah…repairing or healing ethical injury, unjust action and moral harm. Of teshuvah she writes:


The lofty goal of teshuvah is none other than dismantling the infrastructures of enslavement and empire. That is why authentic teshuvah must go beyond symbolic acts and abolish the legal and governing practices that produce and perpetuate ongoing harm. Harms are defined as avoidable impairments of fundamental human needs which make it impossible or difficult for people to meet their needs or achieve their full potential.


The avoidable impairments of fundamental human needs are indeed making it impossible for many people to achieve their true potential. Gottlieb continues with a guide to action for this process as follows:

  • awakening compassion (ha-karat ha-chet) for harm, and embracing self-healing

  • acknowledgment of the web of accountability and one's place in it (kharata);

  • publicly naming harms as articulated by those directly impacted by harm (vidui);

  • reparations for harm which includes rehabilitation, compensation, and satisfaction (peiraon) by those harmed;

  • guarantees of non-repeat of the harm that include an agreed upon system of accountability by victims of harm (azivat ha-chet).

This is a comprehensive guide to what is needed in order for healing to actually occur. Reading it can be overwhelming as we become even more aware of how far we have to come. Yet I think it is an important reminder of the work that needs to be done. May we keep these steps in mind as we plan for the New Year. As a therapist, I have come to understand that the same steps can be used in personal and professional relationships where there has been an absence of understanding. This understanding can lead to stronger relationships that can hasten the work in community that calls to us. Let us remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:




We need the passion and urgency of Dr. King…we need his realistic view of the hard work needed for this journey. We need the assurance that we are doing God’s Work.


We begin with compassion…a thoroughgoing understanding of our connection with the Great Spirit of the universe and with each other. We are made of the same stardust…the same water. And if compassion is needed for our fellow humans and other forms of life, it is also needed for each of us!


We move on to acknowledge the accountability…the responsibility we have for each other. We have arrived on Earth with a purpose…our life’s working paper…our original instructions and this purpose includes our place in the beloved community.


We then name names. We cannot speak in generalities when it comes to the harm perpetrated on people, creatures and the Earth herself. We must publically call on the individuals, groups and systems that have and are continuing to perpetrate harm.


We then begin (or continue?) with the process of reparations…of rehabilitation, compensation and satisfaction by those who have been harmed. This includes Earth’s creatures and processes that continue to be disrupted and harmed on a daily basis.


We need to guarantee that this will not continue to happen. I am not sure how that is possible, but we must be committed to trying!


To be honest, I often don’t have a lot of hope that this process of teshuvah is even possible. The times are dark…the times are fearful…as expressed by 18th century poet/philosopher Novalis…


The times are all so fearful!

The heart so full of cares!

To eyes that question tearful

The future spectral stares…


Haste to the tree of wonder;

Give silent longing room;

Outgoing flames asunder

Will cleave the phantom-gloom.


Draws thee an angel tender

In safety on the strand;

Lo! At thy feet in splendor,

Outspreads the promised land.


Times are indeed fearful…our hearts are full of cares…the future looms with a dismal stare. But we can, if we are able, hasten to the tree of wonder…the place where we can give our silent longing room and voice. We do this with a commitment to life and to life’s purpose. We do this with the help of the Spirit of Life…present in each moment…each sacred moment. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated that “the higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments”. Is this such a moment? On this Day of Atonement can we be ready to do the work of a spiritual life…are we ready to face this sacred moment? Are we ready to be more than to have, to give more than to own, to share more than control, to be in accord more than to subdue?


I hope that the answer to this question is an unequivocal YES! It is at the tree of wonder where we are free to give our longing for Beloved Community free reign. It is at the tree of wonder that we meet the angel with the flaming sword that Thurman speaks of. He wrote:


There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea there is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the ”angel with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes” the angel with the flaming sword” to be placed upon your altar unless it be a part of” the fluid area of your consent.” This is your crucial link with the Eternal.


It is this link with the Eternal that we are searching for…that is the silent longing that Novalis spoke of. Thurman says that we must come to this inward sea in order to find Novalis’ promised land…in order to meet that angel…one who is at the same time tender and standing guard…one who is listening to for the sound of the genuine in your soul that relates to all of Life…in compassion and in accountability to our own consent and the resonance with the all-pervading presence…the Eternal. This is the Power of Love…the love of our creator that is meant to infuse all our relationships…that is meant to fuel our journey to the Promised Land.


May we make our way to the tree of wonder where we pause…and learn the meaning of teshuvah…the way of healing and reconciliation fed by the power of love.




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