Many of us may be familiar with the Gemarah in Brachos (34b) “Makom she’baalei teshuva omdim ein tzadikim gemurim yecholim la’amod bo. In the place where a ba’al teshuva/master of return stands, a completely righteous person cannot stand.” Until recently, I’ve related to this talmudic statement as rabbinic hyperbole, an encouraging sentiment, for those of us who may not meet the strict standards of righteousness, and fall short in deed and creed. For those who may need further reinforcement, the Talmud teaches that very few personalities from Jewish history were free from sin. As the popular meme states, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” In other words, we all err in some way or another, and therefore, we all have the potential to be ba’alei teshuva – Masters of our own return.
Some time ago, I was invited to participate in the on-line group, “Lost and Found.” Lost and Found is constituted by men and women in recovery from addiction and other types of self-destructive behavior. I was deeply moved by their candidness, their honesty, courage, their individual stories of struggle, and faith. One after the other, they stated their names, and then described their personal encounters with addiction. The group listened, and was totally supportive, nonjudgmental, loving, caring, encouraging and reassuring.
I joined this session because an NCSYer (from over 25 years ago) invited me to hear her story, which she was sharing publicly for the first time. Her story is not for the faint of heart. Full of unbearable physical pain and replete with personal struggle. I listened with others in the group while she openly described the horrors of her childhood and adolescence. I must admit that when it comes to drug abuse, I am a bit naive. It was only recently that my wife explained to me that what I had thought was the odor of skunk, was really the malodorous of a popular recreational drug. And here, this young woman, who I vividly remember as a lively, spunky and cheerful teen, spoke of her troubled youth, intimately familiar with alcohol, cocaine and heroin. It was terribly painful and more than shocking to hear. But she now spoke as a stronger woman, with powerful confidence, poise, inner strength, self-awareness, and faith.
In Mishlei/Proverbs, King David himself recounts that a righteous person falls seven times, and then gets up. Through years of self-work, introspection, honesty, determination, and faith, this young lady has found a new path. And true to the Talmudic dictum, in her shoes, we could never stand. Many commentaries explain that the righteous person does not repress his past. Rather he/she reviews each life experience and lessons learned to grow stronger, to “get up” and move forward. We all fall, and when we do, we CAN get up!
At the end of the session, I felt ill equipped to respond, or speak coherently to this group of heroes. I could only remind this spectacular young lady, that we always accepted who she was, and never diluted what she could become. May we all find the gift of courage to stand confidently in our own shoes, to appreciate the gifts of personal introspection, individual growth, and learning from our past in realizing our full potential.
Posted with permission