by Louis E. Newman (Northfield, MN)
All of us at one time or another have had the experience of losing our way. Sometimes, perhaps when we’re traveling in a foreign place, we become completely disoriented. At first we think we know which way to head, but when we set out in that direction we discover that our own sense of direction has failed us. When we realize that we don’t have the foggiest idea where we are or how to get to our destination, we are thoroughly lost. Such moments can arouse profound feelings of helplessness and even despair.
Being morally lost likewise involves a sense of despair. We have fallen into the same patterns of hurtful or self-destructive behavior so often we feel that we’re beyond the point of being able to change. We don’t know which direction to turn in order to find our way back to a life of honor and integrity. And before long we may come to believe that, for us at least, there is no way back. I have known many addicts who have lived for years with such feelings of helplessness.
Ultimately, though, the point of all these metaphors of movement is that the same steps that led us into the ditch of transgression can lead us back to the high road of ethical living. Teshuvah—returning—is the name Judaism gives to this process of retrieving our sense of direction. Repentance is the ultimate form of return. After turning our gaze away from God and straying from the straight path, we can still find our way back. And it is as simple as taking just one step in a new direction. For turning in a new direction, by as little as one degree, will lead us over time to a wholly different destination.
Louis Newman has been thinking, teaching, and writing about Jewish ideas for over 30 years. One of the country’s leading scholars of Jewish ethics, he is the John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religious Studies and the Humphrey Doermann Professor of Liberal Learning at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. His most recent book is Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah (Jewish Lights 2010).
This excerpt is from Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah @ 2010 by Louis Newman (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing). Permission granted by Jewish Lights Publishing, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091. www.jewishlights.com.
To read more about Dr. Newman and his work, visit http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-58023-426-9