Teshuva Therapy: An Overview
Rabbi Howard Hoffman
Ari Hoffman

Teshuva is translated as "repentance", however the ideal translation is the literal one which is "return." When is teshuva necessary? The popular idea is that when we do something the Torah has indicated is wrong then we must do Teshuva to somehow rectify that wrongdoing. What is returning and how does that fix what we did wrong?

The gemara (Talmud), in tractate Chagiga, quotes the book of Ecclesiastes: "The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails that are planted are the sayings of the masters of collections, coming from one Shepherd." (Eccl. 12:11). The gemara explains that Ecclesiastes likens words of Torah to goads because just like a goad keeps the cow in life-producing furrows so too do the words of Torah direct those who learn them from the path of death to the path of life.

The Talmud further suggests a possible pitfall: just as one might think of a goad as moveable and not fixed to one spot so too the Torah is moveable and not a solid and reliable structure. Therefore, says the Talmud, the verse mentions nails, which are fixed objects. And in case one assumes that because nails diminish and do not increase the object into which they are inserted, so too the Torah diminishes and does not increase those who observe them, the verse speaks of them as "planted" to clarify that the Torah is generative and adds life and growth.

The "masters of collections" mentioned in the verse from Ecclesiastes refers, says the gemara, to the sages who sit and learn Torah, each with a different opinion and interpretation. One might then ask, how is it possible to learn Torah with so many different opinions? The answer as stated at the end of the verse: because all of the opinions come from one Shepherd.

This verse from Ecclesiastes and its exegesis in the Talmud provides a comprehensive model for the explanation of the basis of Teshuva and the philosophy behind Teshuva therapy. We use it to illustrate the meaning of Teshuva or the rectification of wrongdoing - namely returning to a path of life and good judgment and leaving the destructive path of death and bad judgment and problem solving. The verse outlines the various methods used in achieving the goal of maintaining a course on the path of life. There are times when a goad is needed, as it pushes one to take initiative; there are times when a nail is needed to give appropriate structure; and there are times when the tree accomplishes the desired effect by teaching one to introduce creativity and growth. The culmination of these three processes results in the birth that is referred to by the Aish Kodesh, rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, as a revelation of G-D's Presence.

Theoretical Basis
The basis of Teshuva Therapy is dialectic thought. The concept of dialectic thought used here is based on the Torah's premise that the synthesis of two different forces does not mean a loss of thesis or antithesis. Rather, the synthesis can create a product that is greater than the two separate parts put together while retaining the integrity of the two parts. This means that while the thesis and antithesis are not dichotomized, they are also not fused, as this would compromise their integrity.

Thus, in the Torah opposite forces are seen as complimentary and helpful to each other, as opposed to being dichotomously conflicted. In this thesis/antithesis reality the thesis is often characterized as the facet that is concrete and contracting into appropriate boundaries while the antithesis is identified as expansive and appropriately breaking through boundaries; it is in the synthesis of these two apparent opposites that the real potential is found. One model of this is a healthy relationship between two people which is characterized by generative synthesis as opposed to alienation and fusion which destroy individual integrity.

In the presentation of the dialectic style of thought it is important to introduce a language that reflects that type of thought. An appropriate example here is the word Hashem. Hashem in Hebrew means "the name"; it is one of the more popular names used to refer to G-D. Using this name also elucidates the Torah's perspective of the concept of G-D. Identifying G-D as "the name" is implying that He is the One with no name. This is a good example of the thesis/antithesis relationship; on one hand there is the motive to give G-D a name because if we're going to talk about Him we need to call Him something. However, once something is named it's identified and limited even if only by the letters which make up that name. Therefore, naming G-D is essentially impossible because G-D cannot be limited. Hence we have the name Hashem, "the name" which in its inherent limiting nature of being a name imparts the reality of G-D being "the One Who cannot be named." Therefore, "Hashem" will be used when referring to G-D throughout the rest of this paper.

The dialectic approach sees the world as a mass of opposing tensions, giving us the potential to find Hashem in the synthesis of these opposites; conversely there is also the potential to distance oneself from Hashem in the failure to synthesize them. We are thus presented with the challenge and opportunity of Avodas Hashem - Serving G-D. Avodas Hashem is a commitment to seeking G-D's unity in the synthesis of all of the apparent opposites that comprise reality. This effort to see the synthesis includes understanding how the opposing forces are complimentary and helpful to each other. This process is referred to as dorshei yichudecha - "seeking Your unity" (Anah b'koach). Conversely, avodah zara- strange worship, means being trapped in the prison of a dichotomized thought process, lacking the energy inherent in the synthesis of opposing forces. In this polarized mindset, thought is an outlook from one dichotomized extreme or another and never the twain shall meet. For example, there are those who see the Satan as the exclusive personification of evil and G-D as the exclusive good in which case one is forced to choose. The Torah perspective is that both G-D and Satan are unified in a dialectic existence that allows both facets to achieve similar goals - namely to help us grow. However, since the earth and everything in it is a constriction of G-D's true good, we can perceive the forces of good and bad as unified, in that they are both present to help us grow. Using the dialectic model in therapy represents an attempt to make the process of the clarification of choices more efficient and effective. In the dichotomized lens choices are harder to mak. This may seem counter-intuitive, as a dichotomous perspective implies that the boundaries between good and bad, and right and wrong are very clear. This is actually not the case, because in each "good" there lies bad and in each "bad" there lies good. The result of decisions based on dichotomous thinking is usually failure in realizing the potential inherent in that decision, because in choosing the supposed absolute good, the inherent destructive force comes along unnoticed. However, when choices are made using dialectic thought as the blueprint, each step is made with dorshei yichudecha, because in the decision making process the recognition and embrace of the opposing forces in each choice leads to understanding the value of the synthesis of those forces. The result is a choice that was made with a cognizance of the possible dangers and benefits and therefore the ability to access the full potential of that choice. In this context we can recognize Hashem and Satan and their unified existence; Hashem appeals to our best motivations and Satan seduces us in our most vulnerable places and these are both necessary methods of helping us grow. The goal of Teshuva therapy, therefore, is the improvement of a person's judgment based on more effective problem solving choices.

Conceptualization of Ideal Mental Health
One of the innovations of this theory is that ideal mental health is not a universal concept in the sense of having a concrete goal that everyone should strive for in order to become "better" or "healthy" or "cured". Rather, the model of Teshuva therapy looks at mental health as a recognition of the paradox of life, and as living according to that understanding. The ideal function of living this way is that one is not caught up in the mechanisms and methods of achieving optimum mental health; rather a person is essentially freed to live as he or she is with a deeper understanding of the self.

The Torah provides a model for focus on growth rather than perfection or a concrete end goal. Hashem tells Avraham Avinu; "go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, from the house of your father to a place that I will show you." Hashem is telling Avraham that it is better for him to grow without having an identified goal (i.e. where Hashem is taking him). The process of growth is the key and the focus of Teshuva therapy. When the focus is on a goal somewhere off in the distance, the danger is that an individual will measure herself based on how far away she is from that goal. Another concern is that a person will look at the people around him and measure himself relative to them. When a person is focused on the growth and not on the goal there is nothing for him to compare himself to except, of course, his own self. Then he can take advantage of Hashem's advice - namely that its better not to know exactly where you're meant to end up. The movement getting to the goal is more important than the goal itself. Torah uses two different words to convey the idea of someone going somewhere. One word is halach, the other is yatzah. The first word simply means "to walk" or "go"; while the second word means "go out". These words are used In different places in the Torah, and when the circumstances around their use is analyzed we learn that halach implies one going inside oneself to pursue growth and confront difficulties. Conversely, the word yatzah implies going outside oneself to escape confrontation and find salvation in an external source. This phenomenon of going outside oneself can be seen in a few places, for instance when Yaakov leaves his home after "stealing" the birthright from Esav. The verse states that, "Yaakov departed Be'er Sheva and went toward Charan." The Hebrew word used for "departed" is vayeitze whose root word is yatztah, as described above.

An individual should use the Torah as a model for living life the way a person takes small steps in a dark room. This individual doesn't know what is in the room to help or hinder him and he doesn't know where there may be obstacles that must be avoided. This image translates easily into a focus on goal-setting and prayer. The small steps are goals that a person sets for himself. The reason these steps/goals must be small is that if a person tries to go beyond herself and sets goals for herself that are even slightly beyond what she can handle it is a setup for failure. This failure can often be blamed on the fact that the goal was set based on the achievements of others rather than a deliberate assessment of one's own growth potential. The effort becomes one of attaining someone else's status instead of furthering one's own growth in life. This concept applies to all types of goals: career, financial, spiritual, social, etc. In this analogy, the dark room is actually the self. When an individual feels stressors in life there are essentially two options. First, he may choose yatzah and "go out", looking for respite outside of himself. Or, ideally, the person will choose halach and go inside herself to discover what needs Teshuva and fixing, thereby rendering herself a better person altogether and more able to live spontaneously and in the moment. The dark room represents the concept that one never fully knows his own biases, therefore the decisions that are made on the journey of growth are always made with some doubt. The doubt becomes necessary for healthy living, for if one is tricked into mistakenly thinking that he can see everything in the room (meaning inside of himself) he sets himself up for failure. When this individual encounters something in the room, there must be the decision to confront it or not and whether or not to utilize it. If the decision is made to recognize that there has been an encounter/ experience in the room then the individual must ask the question "what does Hashem want from me today?" This degree of doubt and ambiguity necessitates prayer, prayer for help in making good decisions and prayer for the ability for one to understand the question, "what does Hashem want from me today?"

In the Teshuva therapy model, every encounter in the dark room is embraced whether difficult or pleasant. This model is premised on the idea that the entire world is filled with opposing forces that are all present to help people grow. When a person encounters something difficult and he moves away from it, choosing not to identify and confront it, he is avoiding growth in that area.

Because the world is a place for growth, challenges of the same type will constantly resurface until they are engaged. These challenges have multi-generational and even multi-incarnational staying power. One often finds as a therapist that when an issue has not been dealt with by one generation of a family it resurfaces in a subsequent generation. In the Torah this phenomenon is found following the passage of a soul. One example of this is Abraham. Hashem told Noach to build the ark because Hashem was going to bring a flood to wipe out all of creation, Noach's response wassilent obedience. However, when Hashem put Abraham in a similar situation with the residents of Sodom, Abraham rose above what was possibly his soul's nature -the inclination not to interfere with Hashem's plan - and he prayed that Hashem would spare the city. An indication of the importance of this effort is the fact that it failed. This shows that it is not so much results that are important but the process. This type of active engagement with one's obstacles is the vehicle for growth which in the Teshuva therapy model is the ideal state of existence.

Theory of Change
The Teshuva therapy model does not consist of bad traits and good ones where the bad ones must be eradicated for the good ones to reign supreme. Rather Teshuva therapy looks at the personality as consisting of potential and those things which limit that potential. In order to change, an individual must be able to first acknowledge and own his limits, for only then can work begin on removing that specific limit on his potential. In order to accomplish this acknowledgement of limits a person must be able to look at himself without bias. This objective perspective of the self is that ability to look at one's self with a lack of insularity, meaning being able to take off all of the insulation that is placed around a sensitive problem or area that requires healing. Whereas people often insulate themselves against confronting the parts of their personality that are limiting their potential, change can only take place when that insulation is removed. There are many things that can accomplish this feat, among them a particularly cathartic experience, and a therapist. This insularity is a very destructive component of a person's psyche. When an individual has not been able to acknowledge a personal limit as his own the shame of that trait often results in a projection of that deficit on to someone else. Once that projection takes place the owner of the deficit blames the object of that projection for all of the problems that result from this problematic trait. One example of this phenomenon called the shame-blame game in the Torah is with Adam and Eve in Genesis (3:1-19). The Snake convinced Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, then Eve gave her husband Adam fruit from the Tree. Immediately, Hashem comes to them and asks them if they have eaten from the Tree. In this moment, Adam responds to Hashem in his shame, "the woman who You gave to be with me - she gave me of the Tree, and I ate." (Gen. 3:11). Adam blames Hashem and Eve for his fault because of his shame in committing the act against Hashem. The way to emerge clean from this destructive cycle is to be able to acknowledge and own, without insularity, the fault in question.

There are four different levels of recognizing and dealing with difficulty that correspond to the word Neis - another addition to the dialectic dictionary. Neis can be translated four different ways, each of which offers a different perspective on difficulty.
1) Neis - run away. This refers to the person who runs away from his problems, not wanting to look back and confront them.
2) Neis - miracle. This is the person who gives up to G-D when difficulties occur. This is the one who asks G-D for immediate salvation because this sufferer doesn't know what else to do.
3) Neis - test. This applies to the person who recognizes that the difficulty is a test that must be confronted. This person looks at every difficulty as a separate test which must be utilized for growth and passed.
4) Neis - flag. This final level refers to the person who recognizes that this difficulty is merely a flag showing her the areas where she needs to grow. This is a much larger perspective where she can notice a pattern of flags and work to fix herself.

Another facet of the process of change is the effort to increase consciousness. The Talmud in tractate Chagigah (5a) brings a verse from Ecclesiastes (12:14), "For Hashem will judge every deed - even everything hidden - whether good or evil." The Talmud explains that when he reached this verse, Rebbe Yochanan cried, saying, "What help is there to the servant whose master considers the unintentional infractions as if they were intentional?" The Talmud continues and asks the meaning of the words "even everything hidden". In response, we find an example of something hidden in the hidden action of a person killing a louse. instead of doing so in front of his friend who would be disgusted by it. Another example is a person who spits in front of his friend who would be disgusted by it.

The Talmud is giving examples of the actions of one lacking the level of consciousness necessary to know not to do those things because it might disgust someone. Another indication of the importance of consciousness is the fact that during the time of the Holy Temple, if a Jew committed a transgression unwittingly he or she would go the Temple and bring a special offering there to atone for the transgression. What do the offerings and the Temple have to do with unintentional transgression? The answer may lie in the fact that the Temple was a place for complete consciousness. On Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, the Cohen Gadol (the high Priest) would enter the Holiest of Holies and ask for forgiveness for the entire Nation of Israel, and for himself and his family. The Holiest of Holies is the holiest place in the world, where the Cohen Gadol would enter only at the holiest time of the year because the Cohen gadol was then totally conscious in five dimensions. It was only at this time in this place that the Cohen could ask for forgiveness almost as if the transgressions were all committed because of a lack of consciousness. This is why when a person committed a transgression unintentionally he or she would go to the Beis Hamikdash, the focal point of consciousness and ask for forgiveness for the lack of consciousness.

From here it is clear that consciousness of one's environment and actions is necessary in order to grow. Furthermore, this desire for awareness will also help an individual in discovering the points of insularity where the weaknesses have been covered up. The ultimate goal in the Teshuva process is the establishment for oneself of a foundation that one identifies with and is comfortable with. This means that a person's efforts should be directed at changing his environment so that he can fulfill his full potential. One might complain to Hashem, "why did I have to be born in this family, in this community, in this socio-economic level, I obviously don't belong here, what's wrong with You G-D?! Couldn't You figure out who I am? But now that You messed up its Your job to fix your mistake." But instead of complaining, a more constructive method would be for the person to build a context for himself. This is called "Tikun Hayesod", literally, "fixing the foundation", and it is part of the over-all goal of each person's life. Instead of allowing herself be stuck in an inhospitable context, the person should try to change that context. A simple example of this is in the story of Ruth. Ruth could have complained to Hashem for putting her with the Moabite Nation, a brutal people. Instead she changed her context to fit the person she really was and swore allegiance to Hashem with her mother-in-law, Naomi. This is part of every individual's journey - there is a choice to either complain and ask for instant salvation, or to change oneself and one's context.

The Torah's model for change follows the mathematical concept of the asymptote. An asymptote can be loosely described as a curve line that approaches an axis but can never reach it. Visualize an X-Y axis and a line drawn horizontally from the top of the Y line and continuing on in to the distance. Then another line rising from the intersection of the axes and traveling vertically, bending over one degree for each unit that it comes closer to our unending horizontal line at the top, or in simpler terms - a curve. See illustration on next page:

The relationship between the curve and the line is that even though the curve will keep getting closer to the horizontal line it will never actually intersect with the horizontal line. This is a factor in the Torah's model for change which is both limiting and inspiring, illustrating as it does that one can never reach the final goal of perfection. That is the nature of existence on earth created by Hashem; Hashem - which is perfection - can never be reached. There is no point in the process of Teshuva therapy where the client comes to the therapist and announces that he or she is cured, that the goal has been met. The goal of Teshuva therapy is a commitment to the process of growth rather than an attachment to the results of the goals. There is nothing wrong or unhealthy with reaching toward the asymptotic goal of perfection, rather the pathology exists in atrophy - lack of movement. The therapist's job is not as a watchmaker, or a watch repair person who helps all of the existing pieces work together more effectively.

Teshuva therapy is based on the concept of repentance discussed in the Torah and its commentaries. One of the innovations of Teshuva therapy is in its difference from most mainstream therapy techniques. Most contemporary therapies currently in use have a 'New Year's resolution' feel to them. They seem to suggest that if this and this and this are changed then life will automatically become ten times better than it is at present. Teshuva Therapy on the other hand seeks only to give people a construct with which to change very slowly to help them lead healthier, more functional lives. In Teshuva therapy change is gradual and done at a very comfortable pace with no specific end goal. The goal is just that there should be some change - some travel on each person's specific path of life.

This paper is an introduction to Teshuva therapy. Its purpose will be served only with continuing studying of the Torah and searching to understand what Hashem wants from us. Teshuva is exclusively a Torah concept and the ideas expressed in this paper reflect the authors' limited understanding of the Torah and of the concept of Teshuva. It is the authors' prayer that with the help of Hashem these ideas will spread and contribute significantly to each person's journey in life.