Author Archives: Rabbi Mark Borovitz

About Rabbi Mark Borovitz

Rabbi Mark Borovitz is the senior Rabbi and spiritual leader of the Beit T'Shuvah recovery program and Congregation Beit T'Shuvah. Rabbi Mark's personal spiritual journey and his Rabbinic education provides a unique and valuable perspective on Jewish culture and learning. His recently published memoir, The Holy Thief, co-written with Alan Eisenstock, chronicles his journey from con man to Rabbi and community leader. In early 2004, Mark was one of 7 people invited to a roundtable discussion with President George W. Bush about faith and recovery. Mark was also mentioned in President Bush's speech before the 1st Conference on Faith-Based Initiatives. Rabbi Mark is a graduate of National University with a Bachelor of Arts in Behavioral Science, a recipient of a Masters in Rabbinic Literature, and was ordained as a Rabbi from the University of Judaism. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognition for community service. The spiritual journey that led Mark Borovitz to Beit T'Shuvah began many years ago when he was serving as an inmate Rabbi's Clerk at the California State Prison in Chino. His program of spiritual recovery and unique approach to the teaching of the Bible - based on both traditional scholars and the principles of the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous - make his message uniquely accessible to those who come to Beit T'Shuvah with disordered lives and a desire to return to spiritual values. Mark draws attention to the problem of addiction and to the powerful ammunition against it, both in counteraction and prevention. He has been invited to speak at numerous centers across the United States. He has been a panelist at many seminars discussing Spirituality and Recovery, including CASA at Columbia University. In a recent speaking engagement, Rabbi Mark was described as one who ".takes a very personal and meaningful approach to Torah. [He] makes it real and practical. [His] interpretation gives Torah a new sense of importance, vitality, and something to grasp onto, beyond the historical and ethical merits. I think [his] views inspire people to want to learn more." The story of Mark Borovitz and his work is also featured in a chapter of the book, Stalking Elijah by Roger Kamenetz. Mark has been featured in articles in Los Angeles Times, Moment Magazine and The Jewish Journal, newspapers across the country and in The Wall Street Journal. Mark is married to Harriet Rossetto, the founder of Beit T'Shuvah. They share the dream of Beit T'Shuvah, working in harmony to further T'Shuvah and Recovery through Faith in the world.

Bitterness to Hope – Elul #9


The antonym to despair is hope, the path to get there is through bitterness. This bitterness is not poison of “poor me,” “where’s mine,” etc. It is the bitterness of tasting the despair and saying “I am not coming here anymore!” To get to this bitterness, we have to go deep into our true selves, into our souls. When we reach the depths of our souls and the depths of our true beingness, we can cry out to God and hear our own cry. Reaching in to our essential pain, our core wound, allows us to tear the foreskin of our hearts and circumcise the barrier to hope and joy. This circumcision opens up the floodgates of pain, releasing the lies we have told ourselves and the lies others have told us and adopt a new way of seeing the world and our place in it.

 

This is the process of creation. We are, in effect, creating ourselves anew. We are going through the darkness of despair to reach the light of hope and joy. This is not easy. It is not devoid of pain. It is a pain that is essential. It is a pain that, in contrast to despair, lasts only a bit.

 

Tasting the bitterness of our enslavement to voluntary suffering and despair allows us to make the commitment to break the pathway to despair and voluntary suffering. It is hard and scary, yet essential to becoming our true selves. This is the action step to realizing and relating to the positive energy in the world and in ourselves. This exercise allows us to express remorse without shame. We use this step to realize that reparation is possible and necessary.

 

Today’s questions are:

1)    What is “bitter” about my life that I won’t repeat in this year?

2)    What are the positive gifts that I have and will bring to the world this year?

3)    What am I going to create and recreate that is good for the world and myself?

4)    What are the voluntary sufferings I am going to leave behind this year?

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The Big Lie–Elul #8


One of the traps we fall into is our feeling sad. While there is a great deal to be sad about: loss, death, disappointment, our own errors, the hurts of others, etc; we have to keep this sadness in proper measure. When sadness is out of proper measure, we descend into despair. Rabbi Nachman calls this type of sadness the worst sin. Sadness/despair allows us to be hopeless and become victims. This sadness and despair allows us to tolerate the darkness that we and others bring into the world. It gives reason to our inactivity, our passivity and our engaging in negativity. This is the sadness that says “nothing will change” “why bother” “I don’t matter”, etc. It allows us to stay stuck and believe that we are powerless and doomed!

THIS IS THE BIG LIE.  It allows us to look for the False Messiah. It allows us to follow the lies of the people who say they know the ONE answer. This lie forces us to engage in other lies. All of this because the darkness enables our worst places and fears to control us. We listen, hear and understand the world from a place of falsehoods and hopelessness, which allows our emotions and minds to override the Truth in our Souls. We leave God while believing those who tell us that the path of inconsolable despair is really the path to God if we only follow these false prophets. We leave God and our own best interests and follow those who use our despair to frighten us into following them as sheep, rather than hearing and following our “still small voice of God”.

Today, the inventory is:
What are the areas of life that I descend into despair?
Who is impacted/affected?
How are they impacted/affected?
What is my TShuvah?

What are the areas of life that I stay connected and hopeful?
Who is impacted/affected?
How are they affected/impacted?
How will I enhance these areas and use this path in the areas where I fall into despair?

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #7

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The Lies I Tell Myself-Elul #7


Doing this inventory this year has pointed out to me the subtleties of our age. The Rabbis of old were very wise when they made the Ashamnu Prayer. The first word, Ashamnu, means guilty. The entire prayer is called a Confessional. The second word, Bagadnu, I have translated as betrayal, it also means stolen. Both of these words have the same essence. In order to steal, I have to betray and in order to betray, I have stolen.

Yet, in our age of “not taking responsibility, we can acknowledge the feelings another person has of our betrayal while not confessing to our betrayal. I have confessed to my earlier betrayals in my book, The Holy Thief. I also have and do confess to my betraying the trust others put in me when I “slack” off. When I am not present, I betray the trust another has put in me. I am not perfect and I am guilty of this. When I misappropriate trust, time and energy, I betray others, myself and God. I have been and am still guilty of this.

The reason I bring this up is because in today’s world, people and corporations are unwilling to admit guilt, betrayals, and misappropriations. We see this in our political arena, in the meltdown of 2008 and in personal dealings with others. We will pay the fines, we will acknowledge the feelings of others and yet we are reticent and unwilling to admit guilt. This is still a denial of truth and robs others of their reality and dignity!

Today’s questions for our four column inventory speak to this:

1)    How have I used speech to confuse truth?

2)    Whom have I harmed?

3)    How have they been harmed?

4)    What is my TShuvah and plan to stop doing this?

1)    How have I used speech to reveal truth?

2)    Whom have I helped?

3)    How have they been helped?

4)    How do I enhance this behavior in my daily life in the coming year?

Another great exercise for each day is:

What are the lies I tell myself so I feel okay when I miss the mark?

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #6

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Go With Your Gut–Elul #6


Continuing our “getting clean,” I want to talk about knowing ourselves better. This is the point of T’Shuvah.  T’Shuvah is the path to self-awareness and self-love. It may seem strange to use our “missing the marks” as the path to awareness but it is the truest form, I believe. In looking at our “missing the marks” as ways to fail forward, we can find new ways to repair old actions and have a plan to do things differently in the future. This takes our past “errors” and makes them into paths of growth.

 

Elul IntuitionOne of the areas that needs growth is our intuition. I believe what many of us call intuition is really our soul speaking to us. Intuition is called “gut instinct” by some of us. A little known fact is that we have as many nerve endings in our gut as we have in our brain. In fact, as I learned from Rabbi Jack Bloom, our gut has been called the second brain! Yet it is, at times, the smaller of the voices that we hear in our bodies. The process of T’Shuvah helps us to strengthen this voice. Ultimately, our goal is to have our soul/gut instinct/intuition be the arbiter of our actions. This happens when we allow our minds and emotions to have votes and no longer have veto power over our intuition/soul.

 

Rabbi Jonathon Omer-man taught me this way of knowing when and where my Intuition is right and how I can grow the areas where my intuition needs to grow.  On a sheet of paper make 4 squares. In the top left column heading is: when has my intuition been right and I have followed it. In the top right column the heading is: when has my intuition been wrong and I have followed it. In the bottom left column the heading is: when has my intuition been right and I haven’t followed it. In the bottom right column the heading is: when has my intuition been wrong and I haven’t followed it.

 

Filling these columns in will give you new ways to understand your decisions and how to enhance your intuition and grow your soul.

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #5

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Getting Clean During Elul #5


As we continue the work of T’Shuvah, I want to focus for a moment on really “getting clean.” Atonement is getting rid of the outer impurity/negativity. Taharah, “getting clean”, is the process of ridding ourselves of the inner impurity. Without “getting clean” we keep the inner contamination that impairs our Spiritual Integrity. Anything that impairs our Spiritual Integrity will lead us back to old behaviors and paths of negativity.

 

We have to break the patterns of negativity. Neuroscience calls this, “making new neural pathways in the brain” that will change our thinking and behaving. Our tradition teaches us to act our way into right thinking. We are not bound by our first thoughts and impulses. We have choice; many of us who continue to RE-ACT in old ways are denying our humanity and our basic goodness of being that we were born/created with.

 

To change, we have to put detours up, burn old bridges and leave the neighborhoods of Het/missing the mark that we have travelled and lived in. Our daily prayer book has in it a prayer Y’Hi RaTzon after the morning blessings. This prayer reminds us to sublimate our Yetzers/inclinations, both Divine and earthly, to God’s Will, even if we have to stay away from an “evil friend”.

 

We can make these changes when we do the inventory that T’Shuvah demands of us. Continuing the path of T’Shuvah using the Ashamnu Prayer we look at Misappropriations. This is an important concept that we use and misuse often. The questions, using the four-column format, are:

 

1)    How have I missed the mark by misappropriation of trust

2)    How have I given too much and/or too little trust to myself and others

3)    How have I missed the mark by misappropriation of money

4)    How have I spent too much and/or too little, how have I given too much Tzedakah or too little

5)    How have I missed the mark by misappropriation of energy?

6)    How have I expended too much energy or too little energy? How have I expended energy on the wrong things?

Remembering that we have to see the whole picture:

1)    How have I “hit the mark” by appropriating the proper trust in myself and others?

2)    How have I learned what I know and what I don’t?

3)    How have I hit the mark by appropriating the proper amount of money to the right things for my well-being and the well-being of others?

4)    How have I lived with and in abundance while doing Tzedakah in proper measure?

5)    How have I hit the mark by appropriating the proper amount of energy to the different areas of my life?

6)    How have I given the proper measure of my energies to family, work, God, self and others?

This month is when we traditionally do our inventories of the past year. We set up a balance sheet, listing the things we have done well and the areas where we have “missed” the mark. Each day I am going to write a way to do our personal inventory.  We will count down to being clean and ready for Yom Kippur with joy and excitement to re-commit to our relationship with God, our community and ourselves. Please join me here, on the Beit T’Shuvah Blog, for this daily teaching.

Also this year I would like to base my High Holiday Sermon on feedback from you, the community. I’ll be looking for feedback on “How and what does Tzedakah and Torah come to teach us?
For responses and feedback please e-mail me at rborovitz@beittshuvah.org

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #4

 

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Getting Clean During Elul #4


One of the most important aspects of TShuvah is that it restores the dignity that each person is born with. We all have infinite dignity and worth. We all have a unique purpose and dignity as well. When we harm another, we betray the dignity and worth that they possess and our own dignity and worth also. Since each of us is created in the Image of God, harming another means that we are not seeing their Tzelem, their Divine Image.

TShuvah restores this dignity to all entities. It is more than saying “I’m sorry.” It is the way of saying “I have hurt you, I made you an object and denied your Infinite Worth and Dignity. This is my admission of this crime and here is how I am going to restore it and make sure I don’t do this again.”

Without this admission, we can’t restore our own dignity and remember our own worth. TShuvah is the statement and reminder to another of “you matter” and it is a reminder that “I matter” as well.  Today, I am using the second word of the Ashamnu Prayer to ask: 1)How have I/we missed the mark by betraying our Divine Image?

2) How have we missed the mark by betraying the Divine Image of another?

3) How have we missed the mark by betraying our principles?

4) List any other betrayals we have committed.

Then, to make sure we see the whole picture:

1)    How have I stayed Loyal to and honored  my Divine Image?

2)    How have I stayed loyal to and honored the Divine Image of others?

3)    How have I stayed loyal to and honored my principles?

4)    What other ways have I stayed loyal and honorable?

 Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #3

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Getting Clean During Elul #3


There are two kinds of Tshuvah:

1)    Getting rid of guilt- this is when we atone for our errors, make restitution, etc.

2)    Being Clean- this is when we cut ourselves off from the behaviors, after we have done number 1.

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz calls this severance. The words that we say to ourselves are ‘these past actions are no longer a part of me even though historically and chronologically they may be true, they no longer have power over me’. This is an important part of TShuvah. Without severing ourselves from the prior bad acts, we carry them along with us as old dirty laundry or as barnacles on a boat and they weigh us down. Without severance from these prior bad acts, we will never believe we are clean and new. Maimonidies said that when someone does TShuvah, it is as if they are a new person. Since you are new, the old doesn’t have to have power over you.

One of the ways to do this is by the second exercise in your soul accounting.  Make the four columns as yesterday and the heading is:

THE GOOD I HAVE DONE THIS YEAR

Everyone one of us has done good. This is harder for most of us to admit to ourselves. We brag and or remind others, yet we never accept this truth ourselves. One reason is that the burden of the obligation to always do good is too great for most people. It is why too much praise harms children rather than helps them. This inventory allows you to see the good you do and not compare one good act to another. Each good act creates its own angel, positive energy. Therefore, you can’t really say one good angel/positive energy is better than another!

 

The format is the same for the first three columns:

1)    list the good acts/things you have done

2)    Who was affected/impacted?

3)    How were they affected/impacted?

4)    How am I enhancing/continuing to grow this goodness?

 

See you tomorrow!

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #2

Click here for Getting Clean During Elul #1

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Getting Clean During Elul #2


T’Shuvah starts with being open to the possibility of change, the desire to change and the commitment to change. I begin each Elul with the prayer, Adonai, Adonai. This is found in Exodus after the Golden Calf incident. Many people think that this is a plea to God to remember to be compassionate and kind. I believe it is a plea to ourselves to have the commitment to truth, empathy and repair. I chant this prayer as a mantra for 5-10 minutes in order to put myself into a state of Grace so that I can be honest and truthful with myself. After I attain this state, I begin to write my Chesbon HaNefesh, my accounting of my soul. I have to see all of myself, good and not so good. I have to be willing to confront all of my being, inside and out. I do this using the prayer Ashamnu from the  Yom Kippur Liturgy. My way of using this prayer follows the Hasidic tradition of looking inside myself, I learned this from Rabbi Jonathon Omer-man and have adapted it in some ways.

The first word is Ashamnu, I am guilty. I ask myself, how have I “missed the mark” (a translation of the Hebrew word Het) by feelings of excessive guilt and worthlessness? I take a sheet of paper and make four columns like this:

       
       
       
       
       

 

 

The heading has Excessive guilt and worthlessness. The first column has the actions I take that personify this, the second column has who was impacted/affected and includes God and myself. The third column is how they were impacted/affected and the fourth column has what is the Tshuvah I need to make.

 

An example from this year for me is:

1)    I don’t finish writing projects I have started because I feel unworthy of having anything to say and who would want to read/use these anyway!

2)    The following entities are impacted; God, myself, my wife, my daughter, my congregants, the residents of Beit TShuvah, others in the world.

3)    God is impacted because I am not taking my place and using the gift of insight and wisdom that God has implanted in me. I am affected because I am letting the voice of my own negativity win. Everyone else is affected because they don’t get another way of understanding the teachings of the Tradition and they don’t get to see and hear all of me.

4)    My Tshuvah is to finish the projects, not worry about the results and live my place in the world a little more.

 

I hope you will join me on this journey and remind me to not give up and engage in discussions about my writings and thoughts.

Click here to read Getting Clean During Elul #1.

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Getting Clean During Elul


Yesterday was the first day of Elul, the month prior to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. This month is when we traditionally do our inventories of the past year. We set up a balance sheet, listing the things we have done well and the areas where we “missed” the mark. Each day I am going to write a way to do our personal inventory and count down to being clean and ready for Yom Kippur with joy and excitement to re-commit to our relationship with God, our community and ourselves.

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9/11 is Remembrance Day


As we remember 10 years ago our greatest national tragedy, it is important to rededicate ourselves to our initial response – coming together to eradicate evil. I remember how we went to Churches, Temples and Mosques to pray for those who died, those who were rescuers and those who survived. We prayed for a nation to come together and have a new response. A response of unity, love and tolerance.

Today, 10 years later, we have lost this unity. We have lost the tolerance and love for our differences. WE MUST recover these! Thursday was National Recovery Day, today is 9/11 Remembrance Day – let’s put them together and remember and recover our spiritual heritage of love, tolerance, unity, hope and faith! God Bless America and God Bless the memory of those who died and God Bless each of us with the Spirit of Holiness and Love.

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