Sept. 29, 2006
Students talk teshuvah
Rambam's notions of forgiveness are key.
Maimonides outlined five steps to repentance teshuvah
and these set a stage for a wide-ranging discussion about
forgiveness, atonement and a range of ethical issues at a student
Philosophers' Café organized by Hillel last Monday night.
Maimonides set forth some of the ideals for teshuvah the
concept that is central to the spiritual quest during the Days of
Awe, which culminate in Yom Kippur on Monday.
Recognize a wrong that has been committed, he said; recognize an
inner sense of regret for the act; articulate in words that regret;
commit to not repeating that action and, when in a similar situation
again, to choosing a different path. These, in a simplified form,
are the steps to teshuvah.
The issue led to a spirited discussion and debate among Simon Fraser
University and University of British Columbia Jewish students at
Trees Café, a hip hangout on Granville Street in downtown
Vancouver where Hebrew regularly mingles with English and Chinese
and an Israeli ambience accompanies what is billed as the city's
Philosophers' Cafés, which are casual but structured discussions
of any issue, were initiated here by Rabbi Yosef Wosk and now take
place under many guises and cover unimaginable diversities of subject.
Monday's session marked the first in a new series, expected to be
monthly, organized by the Jewish student group Hillel. The discussion
was led by Jeff Bradshaw, the new director of Hillel at SFU.
Teshuvah, Bradshaw said, is an act of taking responsibility for
what one has done and committing to acting in a more ethical manner
when confronted with similar opportunities in the future. It is
an individualized process, he said, which is not completed when
forgiveness is requested and given, but is a "dynamic process"
that is revisited every time similar situations present themselves.
Students discussed the nature of teshuvah as a personal and a community
process, extrapolating the case of a violent offender whose penitence
is intended to have the dual consequences of restorative justice,
in which the offender takes steps to atone to the victim and the
community at large, as well as seeking personal redemption, in order
to pursue a path of beneficial, ethical living in the future.
Teshuvah is not only about turning from evil to good, but turning
evil into good, said Bradshaw. It is a process of learning and growing
that recognizes that one can't change what one has done, but can
change what one will do.
One student alluded to the process of tashlich, the ritual
casting away of sins using bread on water. She speculated that it
may not literally carry sin away, but it can provide an opportunity
to find peace by recognizing and addressing past transgressions.
The Days of Awe, the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,
are a time for moral bookkeeping, when individuals are called upon
to consider their actions and transgressions of the previous year
and, where necessary, make amends. But the added significance of
this process, which ends at Yom Kippur, is that this is a time of
individual repentance, followed by Yom Kippur, during which, Bradshaw
noted, Jews pray collectively for redemption.
This is why the Days of Awe precede Yom Kippur, said Bradshaw: "You
can't go to God before you go to the people you have wronged."
Pat Johnson is editor of MVOX Multicultural Digest, www.mvox.ca.