Experienced Talmud students know that definitions are crystallized by examining extreme cases. Rabbi Shais Taub, in his God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction, shows that this is true not only for legal issues but also matters of the soul.
The only known cure for addiction is hard work. A proponent of Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve steps, R. Taub explains them to readers and shows how they adhere to Jewish tradition. Most importantly, recovery from addiction requires deep humility, reliance on a higher power (generally God) and tremendous self-awareness. These concepts are easily transferrable to the broader context of repentance.
By examining the many pitfalls that addicts have faced and the methods they have acquired to successfully change, we see a template for repentance. This isn’t the garden variety, stop doing one bad thing repentance. This is personality altering, digging deep and changing your basic attitude repentance. It is becoming a different person.
One of Rav Soloveitchik’s fundamental principles of repentance is that the person acquires a new identity. While I had thought I understood it, this book gave me much greater perspective. The saying is that an addict who goes through the Twelve Steps and later reverts back to his addiction does not go back to his old ways. After the Twelve Steps he became a new person and when he returned to his addiction he became a third person. True repentance is transformative to the extent that you never return because you have deeply changed your personality (see Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Teshuvah 2:1).