In life, and in recovery, we encounter moments that pull us back to basics. Sometimes we make a conscious choice to review the things that are foundational to us, and sometimes we are forced to revisit these principles when we are shown that we’ve gotten distracted. In recovery we are always grateful to the newcomer for giving us the opportunity to review the foundations of our own recovery, and to remember where we once were. And in our Beit T’Shuvah community, we are always grateful for the new residents that have just arrived in our house, as they give those of us already here the opportunity to lead by example, and to co-create the welcoming community that has been so healing for us.
This week I had the opportunity to review, and to teach new residents, some of the fundamentals of Beit T’Shuvah’s spiritual treatment program. I explained Torah Study: our practice of beginning each weekday together as a community to study the week’s Torah portion. For us, this is a practice of waking up, of showing up, of being on time, of following through with our commitments. It is also a practice of connecting with Jewish tradition and Jewish learning and placing these priorities at our forefront. After all, of all the things we do in the day, this is the one we do first.
I explained spiritual counseling: our practice of having, as part of every resident’s treatment team, a Rabbi or Jewish Chaplain to provide a unique form of guidance, support, and individual learning. We focus on recovery, we focus on experience, we study texts as is our traditional Jewish practice – and we never force dogma, empowering each resident to make her own religious choices, Jewish or otherwise. We do this following the teachings and example of Rabbi Mark Borovitz, our Founding Rabbi, who created our spiritual counseling method.
And I explained that this program is a Jewish, faith-based, addiction treatment program. This is one of the key facets that makes us different from other recovery centers: religion and religious identity are at our core. While residents don’t have to be Jewish to become part of our community, they do have to engage in Jewish practices while they are living in our house. Torah Study, Shabbat services, holiday celebrations are not optional for residents precisely because these times together create the healing experience that they were looking for when they decided to move in.
Especially in those moments when residents are doubting our method and doubting their own decision to enter treatment, I urge them to consider a teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that I learned from Rabbi Mark: “faith is faithfulness” – faithfulness to a particular moment in time, faithfulness through our ongoing response. When the going gets tough, we must choose to be faithful to that moment – the moment when we decided to recommit in earnest to ourselves and to our program, and to enter Beit T’Shuvah.
This week’s parashah, Shoftim, gives instructions to army troop commanders to address their soldiers before heading into battle. Has anyone, the commanders must ask their soldiers, built a house and not yet moved in, planted a vineyard and not yet harvested it, or betrothed their beloved and not yet been married? If so, they should go back home, lest they die in battle and be deprived of their fulfillment. Further, the commanders must ask their soldiers, is anyone afraid or disheartened? If so, they should go back home, lest the courage of the entire army lessen along with their own (Deuteronomy 20:5-8).
Like going into battle, entering treatment can be a life-and-death situation. Just as the Torah understood that there were going to be people who just weren’t ready to go to war, we understand that there are going to be people who just aren’t ready to get sober. Just as the Torah understood that we can’t force someone into courage, we understand that we can’t force the addict who is still suffering to adopt a new way of life. Yet, thank G-d, the people in our treatment community have chosen to enter this spiritual battle, to fight to learn a new way of being. As I studied this week’s parashah with residents, I asked them – how did you know you were ready?
Residents shared their answers: they saw others succeeding in life, and they realized they wanted more for themselves. They saw themselves repeating the same pattern of mistakes that threw their life off course before – and they understood that they needed help in order to get back on the right path. They found themselves pleading to G-d, wishing that they would die and stop suffering. Or they found themselves caught between wanting to die and wanting to live, with no idea of how to move forward. They had become entirely ready to give up the way of life that led them to this moment; they were open to doing everything differently.
This week, as we read Parashat Shoftim, I invite us all to be inspired to awe and gratitude for that force inside our residents, and inside us, that desires life, that chooses life. May we connect to this force with faithfulness, as it gives us life through opening us to a new way of life. And this Shabbat, as we gather in community, may we be inspired to awe and gratitude for the healing power that we co-create: for ourselves, for one another, and for our newcomers.