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Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B and Teshuva as the Philosophy of Resilience

For a printable PDF please click here:T Option B and Teshuva FINAL

ולרפואתו של מינדל ליבא בת פידע פרל

In Loving Memory of Johnny Wiesenbergז”ל

In the merit of a complete recovery of Mindel Liba Bat Fayga Perl

Ellul is a time when most of us reflect on the past year unpeeling the layers we have built up, whether they are layers of superficiality, of shame, of guilt, or self-deception or deception to others. When we peel them away we eventually get down to our inner core, the real us and then the work begins. Ellul is the time when we get into what I like to call a ‘teshuva mindset’ – what does this mean?  To answer this, I will take you on a journey I made over the last year through musings on a book called option B and my go to for any wisdom and inspiration, our Holy Torah.

There are some books you read that you escape into, others that administer intellectual inspiration, some that make you smile or giggle, and occasionally a book that changes the entire way you view reality. Option B is a book that tells a personal story, but it is a narrative that is familiar to almost anyone who has faced adversity, and I would venture to say anyone who has lived life. It is a story of tragedy, loss, grief, regrets and guilt. But it is also a story of triumph, rebuilding, re-framing, resilience and ultimately living a meaningful, happy and fulfilling life that is not ideal but real, not living option A but finding the best way of living option B.Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B was given to me to read by my mother as she was battling the return of her cancer after having to deal with the repercussions of a failed stem cell transplant. After reading it in one sitting I knew that this book had changed me. It isn’t just the way Sandberg writes or the stories she tells, in fact I don’t think I learnt anything new from the book that life had not already taught me, but somehow after putting it down, I felt that something in me had shifted. Only two months after reading it, our family who had already gone through our fair share of disease and unexpected challenges was faced with the sudden death of our father. As we were reeling from the shock once again our mother was thrown into the roller-coaster of treatments and uncertain twists that the cancer journey brings, this time without our father at the helm. Nothing in this story is ideal, except for the attitude we choose. My mother has throughout it all chosen to make the very best of option B.

In Jewish terms it is not living in the realm of lechatchila but finding the best way to live in the realm of bedi eved[1].  A few weeks after the death of her beloved husband, Sandberg is faced with the unfathomable task of dealing with a father son evening in her young son’s school. On the verge of despair, she cries to her friend – what am I meant to do? He suggests that he takes her son instead. At this suggestion Sandberg breaks down, ‘But I want Dave to take him’ she laments.  Her friend looks at her and responds simply ‘option A is not available, we will do our best with option B’.  This becomes Sandberg’s mantra of resilience that allows her to discover inner strength that she never believed she had.  This too has been my mother’s mantra that has given us strength to laugh, joke, and rebuild even in the face of sometime grueling suffering and pain, both physical and mental.

Reflecting on what teshuva means during Ellul each year brings to the fore fresh ideas that force me to approach the concept in new guises. Reflected in the pages of Sandberg’s book I detect fragments of the teshuva process. I hear Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik, I detect God’s deliberations at the golden calf and His 13 attributes that we chant over Yom Kippur. I hear the suffering of our people and turmoil of individuals as they return to God and themselves in this ancient process of teshuva – returning, that as the midrash tells us was created even before man[2]. Could it be that this concept of option B is as old as sin itself? Could it be that the wisdom Sandberg imparts, so modern, so compelling is what our ancient text and rabbinic ancestors grappled with centuries earlier?

The answer I suspect is affirmative.

I quote a small extract from the book that summarises some of the ideas, especially poignant is the last sentence, for the ‘light within’ that she speaks about we see in the very first instance of teshuva in the Torah, and is part of what I have termed the ‘teshuva mindset’.

Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity-and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone.  It is about strengthening the muscles around our backbone…..[3]

There is no right or proper way to grieve or face challenges, so we don’t have perfect answers. There are no perfect answers….

Just weeks after losing Dave I was talking to Phil about a child-father activity. We came up with a plan for someone to fill in for Dave. I cried to Phil ‘But I want Dave’.  He put his arm around me and said ‘option A is not available. So, lets just kick the **** out of option B’.  Life is never perfect. We all live some form of option B….

I now know that it’s possible not just to bounce back but to grow.  Would I trade this growth to have Dave back: of course.  No one would ever choose to grow this way.  But it happens- and we do.  As Allen Rucker wrote about his paralysis “I won’t make your skin crawl by saying it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s not a blessing and there is no disguise.  But there are things to be gained and things to be lost, and on certain days, I’m not sure that the gains are not as great as, or even greater than, the inevitable losses’.  Tragedy does not have to be personal, pervasive or permeant, but resilience can be.   We build it and carry it through our lives……we can all find strength within ourselves and build strength together.  There is light within each one of us that will not be extinguished.

(Option B: Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant p10-11, p175)

The First instance of Teshuva

In the very first instance of teshuva in the Torah, Adam and Chava defy God’s command and eat from a tree they were commanded not to. After doing so, God famously asks them איכה – where are you? In order to prompt a response from man, God asks a question. Teshuva – return to ourselves, to God, to our lechatchila existence – begins with a question, but not any type of question, it is an existential call to our inner selves. God’s turn to man is a quest for him to turn to himself.  Of course, Adam and Chava fail to comprehend what God is asking of them. Instead they understand His question in a literal way and respond accordingly ‘we heard your voice, we feared, we realised we were naked, we hid”. And so, the dialogue ensues, God beckoning an inner reckoning, man evading self-reflection and return, perhaps the eternal dialogue between heaven and earth. God realises that there is no turning back and decrees that reality is forever changed. Option A is no longer available. Humanity will no longer live in the Garden of Eden. Reality is now multifaceted, complex necessitating hard labour, patience, uncertainty and optimism in the face of adversity.  That is the key to our existence. When option A no longer exists, how do I live with option B?

It is here Adam finally accepts his reality. How do we know that? From a telling verse that comes at the very end of this fascinating narrative:

“By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ 20 And the man called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins– כתנת עור, and clothed them.” (Bereshit 3)

Humankind has been thrown out of paradise, they have been destined to live by the sweat of their brow, and have been reminded of their mortality, their dust-like existence. On the heels of this doom and gloom, Adam does a phenomenal thing, he names his wife. No longer is she simply ‘haisha – the woman’, she is Chava – the mother of all living things. Adam’s choosing to see his reality in a certain way is the beginning of his path back to his true self and to God.

How do we know this? Because God acknowledges Adam’s ‘teshuva mindset’ by bestowing them with a כתנת עור –        His gift to Adam. In the Torah of Rabbi Meir as quoted in Bereshit rabba we are told not to read it as עור – skin but rather אור – light. This reading enriches our understanding of the event even further. The clothing of the skin – the external- allows us to be aware and cognisant of the penim – internal – of the light that is inside us – of the human potential to SEE good or bad not just DO good or bad. Teshuva is not just about rectifying our actions it begins by rectifying our attitude. How do we see the world? How do we see ourselves? How do we see others? If we see the skin – DNA, bones, make up – cells – i.e. the component features – we are simply fated to live as humans without control. If we see the אור, the light – the potential we all have to change our conditions, to rise above. The light here represents transformation – something has happened to Adam and Chava – the transformation God desired through the Ayeka call has happened, but differently ubiquitously and subtly.[4]

The Last Teshuva: Choose life from Adam to Devarim

Having studied the first instance of teshuva in the Torah and seen how a paradigm for the ‘teshuva mindset’ works, I would like to continue this theme by studying the last instance of teshuva in the Torah that features in the book of Devarim 30 – Moshe’s swan song. About to enter the land, Moshe ends his speeches with a powerful message. He says:

11 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’ 14 But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. 15 See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, 16 in that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then thou shalt live and multiply, and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goes in to possess it…..

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; 20 to love the LORD thy God, to hearken to His voice, and to cleave unto Him; for that is thy life, and the length of thy days” (Devarim 30)

The juxtaposition of the notion of Teshuva with the idea of choosing life and death is repeated in a very short narrative numerous times. The message is clear, when we choose ‘life’, when we choose to live even if we don’t want to, even when life seems too difficult to bear that is a mindset of teshuva. As Moshe says, when we choose to walk in God’s ways and keep his statues it will naturally imbue in us a sense of life, a sense of living.  This is Moshe’s departing words to his people, the people who he knows did not always choose to see the positive and consequently suffered.  Before we cross the Jordan river, we have to place ourselves in a ‘teshuva mindset’, because living in our land is not an easy task. To see the positive and not despair, is as hard today as it was for the ancient Israelites, but this is what the first ayeka call required us to do, and this is what the last ‘teshuva’ message in the Torah is summoning us to.

The 13 Mildot and Option B

On Yom Kippur we chant almost obsessively the 13 midot of God, that is meant to emit a compassionate response from God as it did in the incident of the golden calf. What I want to suggest is that these midot are also there not only to ‘magic’ away our sins through God’s compassion, but also to remind us of the ‘teshuva mindset’. To unlock this idea let’s return to the incident in Torah.

The people have committed the ultimate betrayal. They have bowed down to another God, they have forgotten the dedication of El Shaddai, and have deviated. The covenant is seemingly destroyed, like the luchot, the relationship is fragmented, intractably destroyed. Option A no longer exists. The relationship can never be the same. Its very conditions call for the immediate and absolute destruction of one of the partners, and this is exactly what God says to Moshe. The people are a stiff-necked people they cannot conceive of a different type of deity, that at times is hidden, that may not respond immediately, that is not tangible and accessible.[5] Hence the only option left is to destroy them and start again with Moshe. A new people, a new reality, destroy the old bring in the new. (see Shemot 32)

And yet this plan is never executed. Somehow Moshe manages to persuade God that it is worth giving them a second chance. His argument is incisive, he reminds God of the covenant, of the history He has with His people, of the commitments they have made and intimacy they share. And so, God does indeed return and retract and regroup and a new plan is born. Option B comes into play.[6] It is not the same at Option A. It is not ‘ideal’ in the divine sense. There is a palpable divine disappointment towards His chosen people, yet in grappling with the tension of the ideal and real, God opts to listen to Moshe and choose option B. It is not a relationship based on immediacy and hence maybe also not on total open intimacy. There is a distance that has been created and through that a different kind of reality. In this reality there is an added clause to the relationship, I call it the Option B clause. Its based on the knowledge that God is a forgiving God – a God that allows for mistakes, for failure and for repentance. In this world of Option B repentance is paramount. Without it we would not even be here. We would have been destroyed. Hence the whole of our existence is grounded on the concept of teshuva.

The juxtaposition of certain imagery and concepts in the text express many of the ideas we have discussed thus far:

א וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, פְּסָל-לְךָ שְׁנֵי-לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים; וְכָתַבְתִּי, עַל-הַלֻּחֹת, אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ עַל-הַלֻּחֹת הָרִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר שִׁבַּרְתָּ

ה וַיֵּרֶד ה בֶּעָנָן, וַיִּתְיַצֵּב עִמּוֹ שָׁם; וַיִּקְרָא בְשֵׁם, ה.  ו וַיַּעֲבֹר ה עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, ה ה, קל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן–אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת.  ז נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָוֺן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה, לֹא יְנַקֶּה–פֹּקֵד עֲוֺן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים, עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים.  ח וַיְמַהֵר, מֹשֶׁה; וַיִּקֹּד אַרְצָה, וַיִּשְׁתָּחוּ.  ט וַיֹּאמֶר אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, אֲדֹנָי, יֵלֶךְ-נָא אֲדֹנָי, בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ:  כִּי עַם-קְשֵׁה-עֹרֶף הוּא, וְסָלַחְתָּ לַעֲוֺנֵנוּ וּלְחַטָּאתֵנוּ וּנְחַלְתָּנוּ.. 

כט וַיְהִי, בְּרֶדֶת מֹשֶׁה מֵהַר סִינַי, וּשְׁנֵי לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה, בְּרִדְתּוֹ מִן-הָהָר; וּמֹשֶׁה לֹא-יָדַע, כִּי קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו–בְּדַבְּרוֹ אִתּוֹ.  ל וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן וְכָל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה, וְהִנֵּה קָרַן, עוֹר פָּנָיו; וַיִּירְאוּ, מִגֶּשֶׁת אֵלָיו.  לא וַיִּקְרָא אֲלֵהֶם מֹשֶׁה, וַיָּשֻׁבוּ אֵלָיו אַהֲרֹן וְכָל-הַנְּשִׂאִים בָּעֵדָה; וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה, אֲלֵהֶם.  לב וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן נִגְּשׁוּ, כָּל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיְצַוֵּם–אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה אִתּוֹ, בְּהַר סִינָי.  לג וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה, מִדַּבֵּר אִתָּם; וַיִּתֵּן עַל-פָּנָיו, מַסְוֶה.  לד וּבְבֹא מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי ה, לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ, יָסִיר אֶת-הַמַּסְוֶה, עַד-צֵאתוֹ; וְיָצָא, וְדִבֶּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֵת, אֲשֶׁר יְצֻוֶּה.  לה וְרָאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה, כִּי קָרַן, עוֹר פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה; וְהֵשִׁיב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַמַּסְוֶה עַל-פָּנָיו, עַד-בֹּאוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ

1 And the LORD said to Moses: ‘Hew two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which you broke……

5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 And the LORD passed before him, and proclaimed: ‘The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; 7 keeping mercy to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.’ 8 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. 9 And he said: ‘If now I have found grace in Thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray Thee, go in the midst of us; for it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your inheritance.’ …….

29 And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of the testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses knew not that the skin of his face sent forth beams while He talked with him. 30 And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face sent forth beams; and they were afraid to come near. 31 And Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. 32 And afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34 But when Moses went in before the LORD that He might speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and he came out; and spoke unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. 35 And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face sent forth beams; and Moses put the veil back upon his face, until he went in to speak with Him.

The second Luchot are כראשונים  they are like the first, thought at first glance they appear the same, they are not. Something has changed, both sides have undergone a transformation. The process of failure, the suffering, pain and fragmentation of this experience has been transformative. The relationship may look the same, the person may seem the same, but their essence has changed.

It is therefore unsurprising that the 13 attributes of God that we find for the first time here, are what we repeat on Yom Kippur in our tefillot. It is not just a reminder to God that He must deal with us kindly, that the new relationship and covenant is based on His allowing for teshuva, but rather more fundamentally it is a reminder to us what the process of teshuva can do. It reminds us that Option B, though perhaps not ideal – lechatchila, can sometimes reap beautiful and transformative results.

There is a fascinating epilogue to this story. When Moshe comes down from the mountain for the second time he is bathed in light, his face carries a Divine light that necessitates a veil.  The continued emphasis on the coverings discovering of his face, the inordinate detail about the light that shines seems obsolete. – why is there so much detail given, so much emphasis on the covering and uncovering, the exposing and concealing? Moshe encounter with God changes him. Something about him is transformed. It is acutely reminiscent of the בגדי אור that is given to Adam and Chava and I want to argue that the same happens to Moshe.  Moshe successfully teaches God the lesson God had tried to teach mankind. He shows him that as much as man must learn to be resilient and positive in the face of disappointment and to find the light within himself and others in the face of adversarial conditions, so too God must do that for mankind. As much as we feel God fails us, God feels we fail him, if He can see the light, the positive, and restructure the covenant to allow for human frailty through the 13 midot, so must we.  This means that we must rise above our conditions and choose life. This idea underpins the entire notion of teshuva. Teshuva is the oscillatory movement between man and God. שובו אלי ואשובה אליכם return and I will return to you is how the prophet Malachi describes the relationship between the people and God. In Parshat Devarim again we see the dialectical movement of return by us to God and God returning us to the land and circumcising our hearts. This reciprocal relationship I want to argue is central to the repentance process.  As we have seen the beginning of the process must be to affirm my condition, whether good or bad, and to elevate it. To choose life. Once we make that choice God will return to me and return me to where I need to be.

In this guise it is easy to understand the light in Moshes face, it is a light from the Divine countenance, because he has reminded God to affirm His own position after the people lost their way, he reminds God that despite His disappointment, He can elevate the circumstance creating light out of the darkness. This is Moshe’s gift to God, and Moshe gift to the people. When the people see Moshe’s face the light moves them to do teshuva[7]. All relationships will at one point or another encounter discord or disillusionment, the question is what we do with those feelings. If we can cultivate a positive countenance towards the other, if we can grow from adverse circumstances then we will have nurtured within ourselves a ‘teshuva mindset’.

Suffering as a prerequisite to the teshuva process

In mulling over ideas from Sandberg’s book it took me back to my pet subject – suffering.  The book has a sub-narrative that addresses issues of pain, suffering and trauma. The message emanating, that though we would never invite these experiences, they ultimately if handled correctly and with the right attitude can lead to substantial growth. Needless to say, there is no explaining or justifying the suffering, rather responding in the correct way to it. Suffering changes us. It brings us face to face with our mortality, with our imperfections and often inevitably with our inner strength and resilience.  Sandberg talks about the idea of post-traumatic growth. There was until recently according to psychological studies two ways people responded to trauma, either to suffer with PTSD, depression and anxiety, or to bounce back, but recently they have discovered a third response – to bounce forward. “when we face the slings and arrows of life, we are wounded, and the scars stay with us, but we can walk away with greater internal resolve……In the words of the adage ‘let me fall if I must fall. The one I become will catch me’”. (p79)

This idea reminded me of a strange passage or Rambam’s Hilchot teshuva:

If a person violates [sins punishable by] karet or execution by the court and repents, Teshuva and Yom Kippur have a tentative effect and the sufferings which come upon him complete the atonement. He will never achieve complete atonement until he endures suffering for concerning these [sins, Psalms 89:33] states: “I will punish their transgression with a rod.”(Rambam: Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Teshuva Chapter 1Halacha 4)

Why is it that atonement must come through suffering? What is about suffering that allows us to atone for our sins. I’m not sure exactly what Rambam’s intention was in this halacha but reflecting on the first two incidents of teshuva in Torah and musing over Sandberg’s assertions I think perhaps suffering changes us. True teshuva, atonement, cannot be done by simply ‘acting differently’, there must be an internal process and transformation that in many instances transpires when we overcome trauma or suffering.  Facing adversity reminds us of life’s truths. Sadly, appreciation of family, health, community etc comes when they are endangered. This aspect of human nature is perplexing but often unwittingly results in enhanced creativity, which according to Rav Soloveitchik is the essence of the teshuva process:

Suffering or distress, in contradistinction to pain, is not a sensation, but an experience, a spiritual reality known only to humans (the animal does not suffer).  This spiritual reality is encountered by man whenever he stands to lose either his sense of existential security (as in the case of an incurable disease or his existential dignity (as in the case of public humiliation).  Whenever a merciless reality classes with the human existential awareness, man suffers and finds himself in distress……

Who prays? Only the sufferer prays…..In short, through prayer, man finds himself.

Creativity and suffering must go hand in hand.  True repentance cannot have, like Christianity, just the penitential side, it must also have the creative component. (Rav Soloveitchik: Majesty and Humility p25-72)

In Rambam’s writings there seems to be a vacuum created in the teshuva process that leaves room for ‘suffering’.  In fact there appears to be some sins that can only be atoned for through suffering.  If this is the case, does it not diminish the very creative and free willed agency of man that is central to teshuva? Suffering is something that one has no control over, it is thrown upon man without any choice.   It takes away the agency and creativity through which we are meant to approach God.  Suffering has the power to reduce man to a shard of despair, it exposes man’s vulnerability and smallness, and at times it can seem impossible to overcome.  Yet Rambam rules that without ‘suffering’, true atonement and repentance cannot be achieved.  We are ‘compelled’ to suffer, we must experience the out of control turmoil that suffering by its nature inflicts on man, in order to regain control and act as free will creative beings.  How so?

Both Rambam and arguably Rav Soloveitchik were naturalistic thinkers, that is they tended to focus on the immanent and natural course of the world, as opposed to the transcendent. Thus, unlike other religions, Judaism does not believe in penitence through self-inflicted harm.  We don’t invite upon ourselves pain in order to ‘punish’ ourselves and beckon the ‘mercy of God’.   Rather if we are unfortunate enough to ensue suffering and pain, or if as Rav Soloveitchik views it suffering as the very core of our existential make up, we must try to regard it as creatively as possible, finding meaning and resolution in it. Perhaps only in suffering are we able to reflect and respond.  When we are content and happy it is hard to delve into the depths of our souls, to search the meaning of our existence, or connect with the complexity of the Divine.  Crisis forces us to our knees, and in doing so lifts us up. And thus, whilst suffering at first glance seems to negate creativity and action, the process of overcoming crisis utilises the greatest gifts man possess, free willed creativity to re-imagine a better tomorrow.

I finish by citing another book I read recently, that also left a deep impression on me. Miriam Peretz who has become a national icon, lost two of her sons in battle and her husband from, in her words, ‘a broken heart’. A woman whose life was devastated beyond recognition, but whose sprit was not broken. Her story has become in many ways the story of the modern state and people of Israel. Shattered but not destroyed, broken but not defeated, she never gives up hope, even when in her own words she feels she can’t go on.

Her life is one lived in Option B, yet as she eloquently says in her many lectures and speeches, she wakes up every day and tries to find the smallest ray of light in any situation. She lives the teshuva mindset and that allows her to see the best in others, in the state of Israel, the people of Israel and even God.

“I didn’t choose this reality – it was forced upon me….in my own eyes I’m no hero at all. But if a hero is someone who chooses life-then yes, I’ve chosen.  If a hero is someone who continues to love the Land of Israel and the Jewish people – then yes, I love them. And if a hero is someone who wants to love and do good, only good-then yes, I am a hero…. 

Every single day, I go through this process of choice. Some days my soul bleeds. I feel like I’m choking, that I don’t have the strength to contain the pain. On such days, as well, I order myself, sometimes force myself, to hold on to something positive. In every reality I search for and find that ray of light – because that single, thin ray can only be found by someone in the deepest, darkest abyss.” (Miriam Peretz: A Song of Miriam)

Teshuva begins by recognising, like God does at the foot of Har Sinai after His people betray Him, life will never be ideal. But by making a choice to choose life, by knowing that I can live Option B and, in some ways, create more meaning, more light, more hope than even in an ‘ideal’ situation, this is the start of our return – to others, to God and ultimately to ourselves.

כתיבה חתינה טובה לכולנן וכל עם ישראל

[1] I am aware that these terms are used primarily in a halachic context, however in recent years they have been used to contextualise certain philosophical or ‘hashkafic’ issues. I use them in a more philosophical way here.

[2] Bereshit rabba 1

[3] Reading this sentence made me think of the term we will encounter later in our discussion עם קשה עורף a stiff-necked people, which is how God described the people of Israel after the Golden calf incident. Fascinating is the various interpretation on this term and whether it is a term of endearment or abuse. In many ways we can see it as both. They are stiff necked which means they lack the ability to shift perspective, but equally their ‘stiff neck’ is what results in a resilient nature that carried them through much adversity.

[4] It is beyond the scope of this essay to expand further however the second sin of mankind – that of Cain follows a similar pattern. Sin – God’s beckoning for return through a question, Cain evading of the call, failure to respond. God’s response/decree, man’s despair, man’s response to his despair – turning to God. God response to man – protection.  The telling sentence there is what God says to Cain after he fails to cope with an option B experience (that he has been rejected – that his privileged life has come face to face with adversity), הֲלוֹא אִם-תֵּיטִיב, שְׂאֵת, וְאִם לֹא תֵיטִיב, לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ; וְאֵלֶיךָ, תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ, וְאַתָּה, תִּמְשָׁל-בּוֹ. – if you can ‘make good’ you will be lifted – God turns to Cain and teaches him a key life lesson – if you can ‘make good’ of a bad reality – if you can see the positive and create light – you will lift yourself and others.

[5] See www.conet     for an explanation of the sin itself and why being a ‘stiff necked’ people is analogous to the sin committed.

[6] For a detailed study of this idea that engages at length with the text please see Rav Menacham Libtag’s website: https://tanach.org/shmot/kitisa/kitisas1.htm

[7] See Eliyahu Rabba 17

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