Judaism is a religion of relationships – how we are obligated to ourselves, one another, to community, and to Something Bigger Than Us. It teaches us how to live in holy obligations, holy commitments, amid the messiness of these relationships.
In addiction, we lose all sense of these obligations. In recovery, we struggle to return to them – to move beyond a single-fix focus, to make amends, to forgive and even to be forgiven.
The word obligation scares some – it sounds like a burden. But truly, it is freedom. It is through our obligations that Heschel says we gain our sense of self – that we know that we matter.
In BaMidbar, after the Israelites receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and just as the Israelites drive into the wilderness, God’s first requirement is a census of the people. God counts us in the way that we count the days until we will see someone we love, or our days of sobriety. God counts that which is precious. What a radical idea: not only is this people precious, but each individual within the people is precious. As Rabbi Soloveitchik teaches, each person “possesses something unique, rare, which is unknown to others.” But that preciousness, that uniqueness, becomes apparent only in relationship – only by being revealed to others, only by being counted in a census, by as Soloveitchik teaches, contributing that unique something “that no one else could have contributed.”
In recovery, we must let ourselves be counted, be considered both uniquely precious and a part of some bigger community, like Beit T’Shuvah or a home meeting. It is easier said than done.
So many of us think that the evil we’ve done precludes us from being precious, from mattering, from being in relationship with people or even a Higher Power. Others think that our worth is measured only by money or power or sex or some other tradeable trait. But worth is not a matter of things or past actions. Worth is a matter of existence. Worth is, as Rabbi Shai Held teaches, “not just what can I give, but also, and crucially, what can I give?”
I returned recently from an eight-day retreat which I had attended alone – without my spouse, or my baby, or most of you (though four people associated with BTS were there!). One morning after prayers, while I was sitting in a lush, colorful and tropical garden, I was struck by the clarity of what I uniquely bring to these relationships and to the people to whom I am obligated. And that clarity came only because I took time to be obligated to myself, and to remember that I matter outside of my roles as spouse, mom, and rabbi. I let myself be counted as me – for my soul not my roles.
I matter is a not a catch phrase, or something that’s only for other people. I matter is for everyone, including you. Because you need you. Because we need you. The Beit T’Shuvah community needs you and your unique gifts that bring our community to life.
When you let yourself be counted in your own mind and among us – when you let yourself be precious – you can be free.