Category Archives: Torah

On “Bullet in the Brain” – A Story from Shavuot


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By Michael Fallon

It was three in the morning at Beit T’Shuvah on Shavuot when I started reading aloud the story “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff, eager to share it with those members of the audience hardy enough to stay up that long. There were several people dead asleep on the couches in front of me, but if Wolff’s sharp, funny and startling story didn’t wake them up, at least it would entertain and inspire those still alert.

“Bullet in the Brain” is the story of a man standing in line at the bank for the last minutes of his life. Anders is a book critic, and his cutting and supercilious remarks are interrupted by two bank robbers who take the customers hostage. Anders is so superior and oblivious to the danger he faces that he ends up repeatedly insulting one of the robbers, who shoots him in the head.

The rest of the story concerns the last memory to which Anders flashes back as the bullet travels through his brain. Wolff makes clear Anders was not always a joyless, judgmental curmudgeon, but started out with a love of words, of language, that curdled into a desperate infatuation with his own vitriol.

The story recalls what Anders doesn’t, reeling backwards through his life, like a time-lapse film in reverse: through the years of disappointment with his dull wife and indifferent daughter, his love and affection toward that same daughter when she was a child, the honest horror with which he reacts to a tragedy he witnesses shortly after her birth, the pang of jealously he feels at a colleague’s first published work, and finally his respect toward its worthiness, long before he came to “regard the heap of books on his desk with boredom and dread.”

Finally we come to the moment he does remember: on a baseball field, in the waning daylight, when he was captivated by what a boy from Mississippi said when asked what position he wanted to play: “‘Shortstop,’ the boy says. ‘Short’s the best position they is.’ …Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final words, their pure unexpectedness and their music.”

Anders leaves this world basking in a memory of his youth, of a time when he stood in a baseball field smacking his “sweat-blackened glove and chant(ing), They is, they is, they is.”

I had timed the story out at 9 and ½ minutes, but by the time I finished reading it, I had left only a couple minutes of my allotted time, and so was unable, until this blog, to share my thoughts on this trenchant work, and some of the questions it raises.

Why is Anders so cavalier about the lethal threat he faces? Does Anders, on some level, want to end his life? Or maybe the scene is simply unreal to Anders, for whom everything has begun “to remind him of something else.” He reacts to the unfolding bank robbery as if it were in a movie, and even compares it to “The Killers” – a movie, and a short story by Ernest Hemingway. Only when he is eye to eye with one of the robbers, and can smell the man’s breath, does the situation grow real for him.

Is there an aspect to Anders to which we can relate? Do we never judge people instantaneously, according to preconceptions about their class, how they look, dress, sound, their accent, their tattoos, or lack of tattoos?

Do we take, if you will, everybody’s inventory? When I see a new client at BTS, do I think “Ah, another jerk-off?” Or do I see a human being, frightened, uncertain, defensive, hopeful, wounded…but nonetheless a child of God?

As we experience life, weather harsh experience, compromise and loss, must we become jaded and bored?
Where are we in that trajectory from innocence to fatigue, from awe to cynicism, from tolerance to indifference, disdain and intolerance?

A saying credited to the Talmudist Yisreol Salanter states that most people “worry about their own bellies, and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people’s bellies.”

Must we grow tired of life? Become childish: petulant, stubborn, entitled? Or can we remain child-like? Is there a way for us to see the world with new eyes every day, with a sense of wonder and possibility?

I think they is.

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Sacred Space: Our First Shabbos in the New Building


By Eliot Godwin

Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Our leader and CEO, Harriet Rossetto, didn’t know what she was supposed to do with her life. A small advertisement in the paper was the spark that ignited Beit T’Shuvah, our singular organization which has blossomed into a diverse and expansive community. Last Friday, the doors of our beautiful new sanctuary were opened for an incredibly moving service, the continued realization of a vision that has spanned four decades.

The building is bright and modern; its lofty, vaulted ceilings an ideal symbol of the freedom Beit T’Shuvah residents feel from the struggle of their addiction. Nearly 400 people attended and witnessed the Hachnasas Sefer Torah (moving of the Torah) before the service. Members of the board, along with several dedicated community members, performed the ceremony under the fresh lights and celebratory applause, and the night was off and running.

Rabbi Mark and Yeshaia opened the service, which was anything but usual. In an earnest sermon, Rabbi Yeshaia expressed the importance of how this is our synagogue; a holy place where we gather together to observe Shabbos and celebrate each other. Rabbi Mark echoed that sentiment in his delightful sermon, preceded by an extended gratitude in which he expressed how grateful he is to the board and everyone who helped create this new space. Atop that list was the lovely Joyce Brandman, who gave a heartfelt speech and thanked the community for inspiring her in so many ways. It was a generous gift from the Saul and Joyce Brandman Foundation that made this new building a reality.

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Several other board members contributed with gifts of their own to ensure the completion of the new campus. Dr. Bill Resnick and Annette Shapiro, who conveyed their excitement and gratitude, also acknowledged the entire board for their leadership and generosity. The event became transcendent, so many people giving so much gratitude; it was truly an awe-inspiring experience listening to generous, soulful people thanking the very people whom they’ve helped immeasurably.

Rabbis Matt and Shira also spoke from the bima, offering their take on why Beit T’Shuvah is truly a holy place unlike any other. New residents were welcomed in and families were recognized for their participation in a family weekend that serendipitously coincided with the grand opening. Sober birthday celebrants were overcome with emotion inspired by the occasion, their success made sweeter by the remarkable setting.

A Torah is considered pasul (void) if a single brushstroke is missing or out of place. This evening was a collection of individuals, unique brushstrokes who comprise something larger than themselves. Without each of them, the community is not whole. On this night, as we gathered outside for Kiddush (taking no risks with the new carpet!), holiness and wholeness was achieved. It was clearly a special night for an extraordinary community. As Harriet found years ago, what she wanted and what G-d wanted for her were one and the same. Someone just had to show it to her.

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40 Years With No Directions


Moses GPS

We are happy to announce that the Beit T’Shuvah blog will now feature a weekly cartoon.  The above image is the first of it’s kind, and these cartoons will cover many of the same topics that Beit T’Shuvah has been known for talking about (i.e. recovery, Judaism, spirituality, relationships, etc…).  Cartoons have long been one of the most expressive outlets for communicating an idea in an entertaining way, and we want this blog to be not only informative and spiritual, but fun to read.  All cartoons are hand-drawn by the new President of BTS Communications, Lon Levin, and will be written by BTS Comms dynamic Copy Department.

Hope you all enjoy and stay tuned for the next one!

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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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