Restorative justice posits that there isn’t a binary between those who cause harm and those who don’t-- we all cause harm, just at different scales. Restorative justice also assumes that restitution is possible. Even those who have caused grave harm have the potential to engage in the noble work of repair. These values resonate with Jewish concepts of the soul and the power of repentance.
Jewish notions of reckoning and restitution are called teshuva, which means return. As Rav Abraham Issac Kook points out, teshuva implies that all people can return to their innate state of goodness:
"When we forget the essence of our own soul… everything becomes confused and in doubt. The primary teshuva, that which immediately lights the darkness, is when a person returns to themselves, to the root of their soul-- then they will immediately return to God, to the soul of all souls.”
HaRav Kook, Orot HaTeshuva
The daily morning liturgy, based on the rabbinic wisdom of the Talmud, affirms that every person’s soul is pure.
The Talmud not only celebrates those who engage in the work of moral repair, Rabbi Abbahu declares that those who cause harm and then work to repair that harm are morally superior to the righteous who have never caused harm.
In this poem, Chana Block seems to be speaking of a pregnancy, but the lines may also be read to refer to the future self that we are continuously birthing. When we've harmed someone badly enough, we can feel defined by the damage we've done. This poem speaks to the way that our actions create the people we will become-- and that we might choose to be in service of one possible future over another.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- When we cause harm to others, what prevents us from attempting to repair that harm?
- How might we help normalize repairing harm?
- What supports might empower people to repair the harm they cause?