Monday, September 9, 2013

R.H- Yom Kippur 74 - Accountability and Te'shuvah- Repentance

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are primarily concerned about our accountability to our creator for what we have done over the past year. When we talk about accountability in the context of politics and business, we hear about the need to be accountable and pay the price for failure or inappropriate behavior by resigning or serving a criminal sentence.
Accountability for kids is just another reason for dishing out more punishments and consequences. The result of this view of accountability is high rates of recidivism .  About 2/3 of prisoners in the USA who leave prison , commit new crimes and then return to prison. Kids become even more alienated and their problems begin to pile up.

The reason for this is the approach to sin and crime is punitive and not therapeutic. The Te'shuva = repentance process is therapeutic.

Although one should repent everyday of one's life, the month of Elul that proceeds Rosh Hashanah, and  Rosh Hashanah till Yom Kippur is the most opportune time to repent. Yom Kippur is the time when we deal with the past. We verbalize and admit our sins = vi'dui, express regret and commit ourselves not to repeat them. Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment and we anoint God to be our king and subject ourselves to his authority.

Should we not first deal with our sins, admit what we did wrong and ask for forgiveness   - the Yom Kippur process -  and only then approach the heavenly court to be judged by God?
Shouldn't Yom Kippur come before Rosh Hashanah?

The answer is that the Te'shuvah process is therapeutic. In order to change , a person must acquire a new vision of himself. The month of Elul and Rosh Hashanah is used to simply work on this vision by solving problems,   trying to improve and do things better. The word shofar comes from the Hebrew – to improve. We say to God – judge me where I am now, I have changed; I am no longer the same person. In order to create a new vision we must sever ourselves from the past, because if we are still tied to our pasts, our pasts will hold us back and limit the extent of the vision. Solving problems is a neutral process that has no shame or blame, so it will not limit the creation of a new vision, but allow people and kids to come up with a better plan and also fix relationships. We first create a future and then deal with the past. We first have an Elul and Rosh Hashanah and then a Yom Kippur.

Now that we have solutions in place and a new vision of ourselves, we are in a position to deal with the past. If we don't deal with the past , the past will catch up with us.
  We now have a new appreciation of what we did wrong. This results in more regret and remorse that we had before the te'shuvah process. It is pretty easy for a thief to admit what he did and to give lip service – apologize soon after the crime. Once he has changed and has a new vision of himself as someone who does not do such things, he is embarrassed and remorseful when he recounts and admits what he has done and asks for forgiveness. Shame and blame are generally very negative emotions which get in the way of personal growth. But shame and blame can be easy to handle and a positive thing , when a person has a new vision of himself and the blame and shame is not because some else is blaming or shaming him, but he himself has internalized what he has done. Once he has given expression to these feelings on Yom Kippur he can move on in the knowledge that he has been forgiven and is a new person happy with his new appreciation of life and his relationship with God.

In schools and in the home we can use CPS – collaborative problem solving to ' work with ' kids and help them reflect and do Te'shuvah = repentance. Here we don't deal with ' behaviors'   but with unsolved problems. We work together with kids in a collaborative way to find mutually satisfying, realistic, and durable solutions to these unsolved problems and provide kids with a new vision of themselves. They then are in a position to reflect and engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong.

The prisons , both adult and juvenile prisons are filled with offenders who believe they have done nothing wrong except to be caught .If they admit doing wrong , they say they don't deserve the 'sentence' meted out to them. Because the system is essentially punitive, offenders are not getting the right treatment which will help them re-enter society and not return to a life of crime and prison.

A step in the right direction is to use CPS to help solve people's problems and apply the principles of restorative justice. In the criminal justice system, crimes are done against the state. The state has replaced God and people. The Rambam explains that repenting and fasting on Yom Kippur does not help with sins we do against our fellow man. Until the offender   has made things right, engaged in restitution and appeased the victim, who would then forgive and pardon him, the offender has not atoned for his sins.

Restorative justice says that the offender has committed a crime against the victim and society rather than the state. So both the victim and representatives of society collaborate with the offender to ensure restitution and reconciliation. This helps the offender to reflect on the impact of what he has done on others without shame or blame. This helps him internalize what he has done, be more remorseful, try to make things right and appease the victim.

The lesson of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that ' Accountability ' is not about paying the price of failure or making mistakes. It is about learning from mistakes, creating a new vision for oneself, changing from the inside, engaging in the moral act of restitution and making things right. It is about peace and reconciliation between man and God and man and man.

May we all help each other, our kids, employees, students etc to be more accountable to God, ourselves, fellow citizens and society.

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