A powerful guide to finding meaning and Hope is found within the writings of the twelfth Century luminary Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, best known as Maimonides or the Rambam. Before jumping straight to The Eight Steps there are a few things that need to be explained.
The text focuses on helping us face our imperfections. It shows us how to turn inward to discover that contained within each of us are the keys to inspiration, hope, and the ability to change.
The List was developed from Maimonides’ Hilchos Teshuvah. Hilchos means: the way and Teshuvah: spiritual awakening. Thus, The way to Spiritual Awakening. Teshuvah implies a change in our state of being, a new awareness of an inner yearning to connect with the sacred.
STEP ONE: Hurling Out the Pain
An individual must confess, own up to the iniquities he or she committed whether willingly or inadvertently. This is a verbal confession. This confession is a positive commandment. How do You confess? The individual says, "I beseech You, God; I sinned, I transgressed, I was careless. Before You I did the following .... Behold, I regret and am embarrassed by my deeds and/or actions and I will never repeat this deed again.
- Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, Chapter One, Section One
When we suffer, there comes a time when the pain becomes unbearable. We spiral down and down until we stop with a thud. It then becomes clear that our lives cannot continue as they were. The first step is to get it all out.
Realizing that we have to change is not enough. An action is required in order to make a stand against whatever we did. When we hurl it out, we tell someone specifically what we did and how we are now committed to putting a stop to it. This becomes a positive force propelling us toward the next step.
STEP TWO: Recognizing That You've Changed
What is the essence of Teshuvah? An individual forsakes his or her misdeeds and removes them from his or her thoughts. There is finality in one's heart that there is no returning to those misdeeds .... And the said person knows and is witness in the hiddenness (of one's heart) that he or she will never return to this (said misdeed) again. As it is written (Hoshea 14:4), "We no longer say to the work of our hands: 'You are our gods.'" An individual needs to acknowledge this with one's lips and to say these matters that are finished in one's heart.
- Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, Chapter Two, Section Two
Once we have laid out the cards of our pain on the table, we see that we don’t want to have anything to do with them anymore. There is no doubt in our minds and hearts. We will not allow the things that led us downward to influence us again. From this day forward, we leave the struggle behind.
STEP THREE: Standing Up for Yourself
Keep yourself far away from the things that caused you to sin. Change your name, which is to say, "I am a different individual, and I'm not the person who did all those things." Change your actions and deeds, all of them, to the good and straight path. And go into exile from your current place.
- Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, Chapter Two, Section Four
We realize that in order to have nothing to do with what caused our pain, we have to separate ourselves from many things. It is as if we had a previous self who did those things or acted that way. Staying far away from that previous life is now a steadfast commitment.
Our confession has brought us to a new awareness. We become aware of a part of our personality that had been hidden in our pain. This new sense of self is like a new name. And our new name is bringing us forward to begin a new life.
STEP FOUR: Moving Forward with Life
"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth" (Ecc.12:1) [Because your life has changed, you no longer have desire in your former life.] Who attains complete Teshuvah? An individual who is challenged, who faces and confronts the same situation in which he or she stumbled and has at hand the possibility to commit that misdeed again, and who refrains and doesn't do it because of his or her individual Teshuvah. And this refraining is not out of fear nor lack of strength.
- Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, Chapter Two, Section One
No matter how carefully we may have separated ourselves from our previous situation, something or someone will pop up and challenge us. This is a great opportunity because by meeting and overcoming the challenge, we feel strong and sure that we have moved forward with our lives.
As a result, we feel renewed, almost young again. This youthful feeling is a signal that it is time to get our lives back on track.
We have moved ourselves so completely away from our former difficulties that we stop looking back. What lies ahead of us is a wide-open world ready for our new sense of vitality.
STEP FIVE: Straightening Out Personal Business
Transgressions between an individual and another are never forgiven until you reconcile your debt and appease your friend. Even if you return said individual's money that you owe, you need to reconcile and ask to be forgiven. Even if you upset someone by saying certain (hurtful) things, you must appease this person until you are forgiven. If the individual doesn't forgive, go back to that person two or three times. [But] If the individual doesn't want [to forgive you], you may leave the matter and go. The person who refuses to be forgiving is considered a sinner.
- Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, Chapter Two, Section Nine
Before our lives can move ahead smoothly, before we can be ready for that wide-open world, we have to ask for forgiveness from the people we hurt. We are now emotionally strong enough to endure the discomfort of repairing the damage.
It’s not enough to say we’re sorry. We have to do everything possible to find satisfactory resolutions. There are two parts involved: paying back and seeking forgiveness. Both are necessary. To do this, it’s important to go the extra mile.
STEP SIX: Confessing Your Actions in Public
It is exceedingly praiseworthy for an individual to do Teshuvah by confessing in public and acknowledging and making his or her sins known to others, and revealing the transgressions that occurred between the individual and his or her friends. The individual should say to them, "I sinned against so-and-so and I did such-and-such . . . Behold, I am this day doing Teshuvah and express my regret.
- Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, Chapter Two, Section Five
Once we’ve set things from the past straight, we move forward by sharing with others what we have learned. We strengthen ourselves tremendously by talking about how far we fell, how we hurt ourselves, how we hurt others, and how we struggled to climb back to where we stand with them now.
This accomplishes two powerful things. First, there is a great lesson in humility that accompanies a public admission. Second, by baring our souls publicly, we help those we’ve wronged recognize that our regret is sincere.
STEP SEVEN: Living Your Forgiveness
An individual should not wonder and say, "How is it possible for us to do what we want and thus be responsible for all our actions? The Creator desires that individuals have free choice and be responsible for their actions without being forced or pulled. It's forbidden for a person to be cruel and not be appeased. Rather, a person ought to be easily appeased and difficult to anger. When someone who sinned against you asks you for forgiveness, you should forgive with a complete heart and a willing spirit. Even if that person caused you pain and wronged you many times, don't seek revenge and don't bear a grudge.
-Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, Chapter Two, Section Ten and Chapter Five, Section Four
After speaking to others about our struggle, we continue onward through life, conscious of our great responsibility to make wise decisions. We must look around in the world and find ways to make positive choices for our lives.
We are now keenly aware of how we are responsible for every move we make. No one is forcing us to choose one way or the other, but we no longer consider choices that could take us in the wrong direction.
Being unforgiving in any way keeps us from making positive decisions. When we forgive someone, particularly who caused us pain, we pave new paths upon which others will travel the road of forgiveness.
We previously sought forgiveness from those we hurt, but memories of how others hurt us tend to linger. Our willingness to forgive is a sign that we have truly been transformed. Without holdouts and grudges, we are free to touch the sky.
STEP EIGHT: Falling in Love with Life
The one who serves God out of Love . . . and walks in the pathway of wisdom-not because of anything in this world; not because of fear that evil will happen; not in order to get something good from it; but rather the person does what is true because it is true-In the end, goodness will come from it . . . What is the proper amount of love? A person should love God with a great and powerful love until that person's soul is bound up in the love of God. . . . One cannot love God except through the knowledge that one knows God. According to the amount of one's knowledge will be the amount of one's love.
-Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, Chapter Ten, Sections Two, Three, and Six)
We didn’t know it, but when we first hurled out the pain, we were making room for love. We continued to evolve and be transformed by working on ourselves. Through the work of Teshuvah, we roused our minds and spirit and found within us our love of God.
We are heartsick for more knowledge of the Spirit. We let go and let love embrace our lives.