Finding Wholeness in Unexpected Places

By Rabbi Mark Goodman

Depending on your perspective, Moses was either a flawless paragon of moral virtue, or an ill-tempered foster child with a tendency toward angry reactions. Abraham was either a true servant of the Lord, boundless in faith, or a man with serious parenting issues. And Miriam was a great leader, or a hurtful slanderer.

It all depends on where you stand. Two weeks ago, BaMidbar Director Jory Hanselman and I stood in a place where the answer to who those biblical personalities was complex, because life is complex. We spent the week at Beit T’Shuvah.

Beit T’Shuvah is a rehabilitation center dedicated to the 12 steps, psychotherapy, spirituality, and Jewish learning. Located in Los Angeles, Beit T’Shuvah’s mission is to “guide individuals and families towards a path of living well, so that wrestling souls can recover from addiction and learn how to properly heal.”

Jory and I participated in Beit T’Shuvah’s Elaine Breslow Institute Immersion program, where we joined with residents in everything from text study and group therapy to AA meetings, acupuncture, and guided meditation. We also met with the clinical team, spiritual counselors, director of admissions, staff psychiatrist, as well as founding director Harriet Rossetto and Senior Rabbi Mark Borowitz to get a full picture of Beit T’Shuvah’s work.

It was intense. It was exhausting. It was amazing.

At Beit T’Shuvah, I heard residents’ stories and saw their struggle. Mostly, I was awed by their strength. The battle to wake up every morning, fending off the desire to slip back into old and destructive ways, is real and unforgiving. And yet, that’s what it takes. Residents at Beit T’Shuvah are strong because they relentlessly work on themselves. They overcome, and fail, and overcome again. Their struggles are not painted over – they are an essential part of the narrative that makes them strong. A person is not a failure or a success; a thief or a tzaddik (righteous individual) – they are both/and. Their struggles feed their successes. And their stories are not complete if you only tell the saintly bits. They are a whole person, both their catastrophes and their triumphs, just like Moses, Abraham, and Miriam. Beit T’Shuvah strives to know and love the whole person, and to guide each individual toward an understanding that life isn’t easy or pretty all the time.  Rather, we must see all parts of life as important, rewarding, and sacred.