Hot Off the Shtender: Radical Presence & the Practice of Rebuke

by Rabbi Benay Lappe in chevruta with Laynie Soloman

The Jewish new year season tends to have one “star of the show”—teshuva, the practice of recognizing whom we’ve harmed and repairing that harm, addressing where we might have fallen short in becoming the people we want to be, and returning to right relationship with ourselves, with God, and with others. Resolving our relationships tends to take a front-row seat during this time of year. But it is often the case that the places in our lives where resolution is most difficult to achieve are not where we need to do teshuva with others, but actually where we are waiting for others to do teshuva with us. We assume that it is the other person’s responsibility to do the teshuva-lift, so to speak, and to approach us. And it is.

But it turns out that the tradition has another spiritual technology available to those of us who have been waiting—maybe with anger, or resentment, or maybe just with a hurt heart—for the person who hurt us to come and do teshuva with us, a teshuva which has not yet come, and which, otherwise, might never come. It’s called tochecha (Leviticus 19:17), typically translated as “rebuke,” and what I sometimes translate as “compassionate critique,” but, when done well, is much less confrontational and self-righteous than either of those translations make it out to be.

It’s the act of creating space for reconciliation when we are the harmed party, into which the one who harmed us and needs to do teshuva with us, but has not yet, might enter. It’s basically the process of helping them get on the teshuva train—primarily so that we can off-load the resentment and hurt we’re carrying. But also because, well, we’re supposed to care about each other’s well-being, and helping someone else do teshuva helps their well-being, too. Read More