Tag Archives: guilt

Birds and Ladders: A Continued Story of Repentance

The idea of prayer is to inwardly have a private dialogue with the Creator. Speak to Him just as you might speak with a friend who is paying attention and listening.

All around you may be noise, traffic, planes, telephones. Inwardly, too, may be a preoccupation with hassles, business dealings, quarrels, competition, desires.

But prayer brings you suddenly to… quiet. The inward silence creates a barrier to the flow of noise, and it is as if there is silence and calm all around. Tranquility is yours!

(see Rabbi S. Wolbe – “Shal’hevesya,” p.34)

Daily Lift #180: Pray One-on-One

Rabbi Mordechai Rottman relates in his article Four Steps to Change that making teshuvah or repentance, requires for basic steps:

  1. Regret
  2. Leaving negativity behind
  3. Verbalization or confession
  4. Resolution for the future

About Verbalization, he says:

Why is it important to say it?

There is a power to saying things as opposed to just thinking about them. Verbalizing a thought brings the idea to a new level of reality, awareness and understanding.

The verbalization that is done after committing a transgression makes one more fully aware of what was done. It therefore heightens the regret and strengthens the resolution not to commit the act again.

This verbalization is not to be done before anyone other than God. Not even your rabbi needs to know about what you have done. It’s just between you and your Creator.

Granted, you don’t come to this stage of repentance until you’re fully immersed in the first two, but coupling R. Rottman’s commentary with R. Wolpe’s, we see that in talking to God, we don’t have to stand on ceremony, as it were. We can speak from the heart, one-on-one, confessing only to Him our feelings of regret and remorse, expressing our sorrow and guilt, and pleading with Him to be our strength in the face of our trials; our rock in overcoming our challenges.

In one of his commentaries on Torah Portion Vayaitzai, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin stated:

The Chofetz Chayim cited the idea expressed by many commentators that the ladder Yaakov saw in his dream symbolizes the situation of every person in this world. There are two actions a person performs on the ladder. Either he goes up from the bottom to the top, or else he goes down from the top to the bottom. Each day in a person’s life he faces new challenges. If he has the willpower and self-discipline to overcome those challenges, he goes up in his spiritual level. If, however, a person fails to exercise the necessary self-control, he lowers himself. This is our daily task, to climb higher every day. (Toras Habayis, ch.10)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Climb higher on the spiritual ladder each day by growing from life’s challenges,” p.72
Based on Genesis 28:12
Growth Through Torah

However, this sentiment causes me to re-evaluate a teaching of the Master:

For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance…

Matthew 13:12 (NASB)

weightliftingI know Yeshua (Jesus) was talking about blessings, but when a person finds the self-control, with God’s help, to overcome challenges, although we expect some sort of relief from strife, what most likely happens is another, stronger challenge appears. It’s like being an athlete who has exceeded a personal goal. Having done so, it’s not a matter of resting on his or her laurels, but finding the next goal, the next challenge, and tackling it. But on a moral and spiritual level, overcoming a personal challenge is often exhausting, and after a tough battle, all you want to do is rest.

Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Matthew 4:11

Even after he successfully overcame his trials, Yeshua got to rest. When facing a spiritual challenge, we have two fears. The first is that we will fail (again). The second is that we will succeed only to immediately face a much more serious challenge.

Why not stay where we are? It may not be the best situation, but at least it’s a known quantity.

Two reasons. The first is that by continuing in a state of sin or disobedience to God, you are not only damaging your relationship with Him, but likely with others around you including friends and loved ones. In fact, it might be the realization of their pain that spurs you into action and seeking repentance in the first place.

The second reason, as Rabbi Pliskin relates, is that being on the ladder is like being in a boat on the river. If you stop rowing, you don’t stay in one spot, you go backward. It’s only through constant effort that you make progress. Although a real ladder doesn’t work this way, spiritually, that’s what happens.

In spite of R. Pliskin’s metaphor, few of us start climbing the ladder and successfully master a rung a day. Conversely, few of us start at the top and steadily, unerringly make our way to the bottom. For most people, we struggle up two and down one, or up one rung, then down two, often for quite some time as we seek to master some part of ourself. As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, progress, spiritual or in any other way, is rarely linear like climbing a flight of stairs.

A person whose main focus is self-improvement and a striving for perfection will always check over his behavior to see what needs correction. Keep asking yourself, “Have I made mistakes?” When you do find a mistake, feel positive for the opportunity to correct the mistake for the future.

-R. Pliskin
“Keep checking your behavior to find ways to improve,” pp.73-4

Oh, if only it were that easy. The Rav makes it seem like we may or may not find that we’ve made mistakes, and yet what I know of human nature in general and my nature in specific tells me that we make mistakes every day, big and small. Of course, the more often we check our moral compass and the path we are traveling, the greater the likelihood that our course corrections will be frequent but small. That assumes, of course, that we generally are on the right course and don’t find ourselves in uncharted and undesirable territory.

It’s much more difficult when you have fallen far, to start climbing the ladder again. The distance from the bottom to the top seems so long, so insurmountable, and overcoming inertia to begin working from the basement of your soul up to that first rung is an almost unimaginable effort.

A word of caution. While self-criticism is a prerequisite for character improvement, one must be careful to have a healthy balance. Excessive self-condemnation will be extremely detrimental to one’s well-being. You need to master an attitude of joy for doing good and then self-criticism will add to that joy. Every fault that is found and worked on will give you the pleasure of knowing that you are improving.

ibid, p.74

I blame myselfStep two on Rabbi Rottman’s list of the four steps of teshuvah is “leaving negativity behind.” He is speaking of changing your environment and the various influences in your life to minimize or eliminate those that contribute to your being tempted to return to sin. However, from my point of view, one of those influences is yourself and what you are saying about your circumstances.

If you look at the ladder from the bottom and say that it’s impossible for you to climb even in a small way, then you are right. It is impossible. Then there you sit in the dust and continue sinking to some sub-level of iniquity.

As much as we’d all like God to “zap” our lives so that we find spiritual and moral growth easy and effortless, such is not the case. Grace may be free but repentance is really hard work. Leaving negativity behind is largely a matter of the stories you tell yourself about yourself. If you tell yourself you are helpless and hopeless, then you’re right. If you tell yourself you are capable and with God’s help, you can begin to climb the ladder and improve, you are also right.

The ladder is either a barrier that holds you down or an opportunity to lift yourself up. You don’t have to achieve spiritual miracles and jump from the bottom to the top in a day, a week, or even a year. Truth be told, the ladder is as long as your life and the challenges never end. But the one you face today that seems so huge and so terrifying, might seem like a small kitten a year from now if you are diligent in your work.

If you look at some temptation facing you and resist it this morning, by tonight you can look back and say that you have accomplished something. Yes, the temptation may be there tomorrow, but that’s another rung on the ladder.

Similarly, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter used to say that a person is like a bird. A bird has the ability to fly very high. But it must continually move its wings. If a bird stops flapping its wings, it will fall. Every person is similar. (cited in Tnuas Hamussar, vol.1, p.300)

When you see birds flying, let that serve as a reminder to you to make the necessary movements to raise yourself spiritually.

-ibid, p.72

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:12-13

Five days a week, I wake up at 4 a.m. and make it to my local gym by five. It’s gotten easier to overcome sleepiness and to battle the drive in the dark to the gym to do this, and then to face the free weights, the workout machines, and the cardio exercise, fitting it all into an hour, but in the beginning it was very difficult.

Some days my workout is better than others. Some days, I skip a scheduled day, as I did last Friday, but pick it up the following day to make up for my lack of consistent effort.

It is the same when we face our challenges. We accept them upon ourselves for many reasons. We want to be a better person than the one we are today. We have many flaws which hurt our relationship with God and with our families and friends and we want to repair the damage. We are continually hurting ourselves, and need to become stronger and to heal.

soarChange can be terrifying but it can also be exciting. It’s like moving to a place you’ve never lived before. You have no connections or support, but you also have a brand new environment to explore and learn from.

The effort you make and the story you tell yourself about it will make the difference between falling and soaring. But you don’t have to make the effort alone. Talk to God. Ask for his help. With our eyes on our Master, we can learn to climb high and fly with eagles.

Judgment and Guilt

Rabbi Chayim of Tzanz once said to an evildoer, “Don’t think that because you give in to your evil inclination in some areas you therefore must be evil in all areas. Rather, in whatever ways you can, do good and overcome evil.” (Maigdolai Hachasidus: Hoadmor Maitzanz)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“No matter how far away you are from the Almighty you can always come close when you make an effort,” p. 417
Commentary on Torah Portion Re’eh
Growth Through Torah

As a flawed and imperfect human being, I find this enormously comforting but it isn’t what Christianity always teaches. It’s also a lesson that if misused, could be employed in the service of laziness or hypocrisy. As servants of God we could be tempted to believe that it is acceptable to be obedient to God in certain areas while disobedient in others. This would certainly be in error, but there’s the opposite to consider.

How often does a “religious” person bemoan their state in never being “good enough” either for God’s acceptance or more likely for the acceptance of their faith community? All churches and synagogues (and other religious traditions) have standards, both formal and informal, and violation of said-standards can elicit responses, from the casual “tongue-clicking” of gossips and judgmental people to more formal criticisms and reprimands (and sometimes there is no more legalistic and judgmental institution than the Christian Church).

Although other streams of Orthodox Judaism may not be so open, the Chabad tends to run on the belief that encouraging a Jew to observe even one mitzvah may ultimately lead to another and then another and so on. Thus, Chabad, at least in theory, accepts Jews from all walks of life and backgrounds within their synagogues, even if they have to (or choose to) drive to services on Shabbat.

The Rebbe himself (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson), although strict and demanding in issues of halachah, nevertheless embraced a certain “flexibility” (I apologize if that’s not quite the right word) in his expectation of even Orthodox Jewish practice.

In 1977 after his heart attack, the Rebbe started seeing cardiologist Dr. Ira Weiss who was an Orthodox Jew. As with most physicians, Dr. Weiss labored under the heavy demands on his time and admitted to the Rebbe that he was often late in reciting Mincha (the afternoon prayers) which caused him great guilt and distress. The Rebbe responded:

“In a case like this, where your obligations are first to your patients, and where making them wait can cause them physical or emotional harm…you are not entitled to delay them any further. You have to finish your work with them first, and God will understand the delay in your Mincha. You don’t have to make any apologies for a late Mincha.”

-Joseph Telushkin
Chapter 8: “I’m Also Tired, So What?” p. 127
Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History

Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The Rebbe went on to caution Dr. Weiss that when time is available and he is not in the service of his patients to not become lax or indifferent and that indeed he had a duty to pray at the appointed times, but he wanted to relieve Dr. Weiss not only of any guilt he experienced but even the idea that he had done anything wrong. The Rebbe went so far as to tell the doctor of the serious demands on his own time and circumstances that resulted in the Rebbe sometimes starting Mincha late.

I realize that for a Christian, this doesn’t seem like anything we would worry about. After all, we don’t have set times of prayer and compared to Orthodox Judaism, very light requirements from our religious calendar and traditions. However, as I said above, there are times when the Church can be quite legalistic in its own expectations, they simply do not codify their requirements in as open a manner as Orthodox Judaism. And the fact remains that regardless of our religious preferences, it is a human trait to judge others.

I recently read another Rabbinic commentary whose source escapes me (I thought it was Rabbi Pliskin’s but I can’t find it now). It tells of a poor man who was invited to a wedding. The family who invited him were quite well off and the man was embarrassed that he couldn’t afford a good suit to wear to the occasion. He finally asked a neighbor if he could borrow a suit and his neighbor generously lent the man a $1000 suit.

The day of the wedding, the man discovered that many of the people at the wedding were wearing suits not as fine as his and he began to look down upon them. This, of course, is the improper response, since this poor man could not have dressed as well as even the most casually attired wedding guest of his own resources.

And yet, as faulty as we all are in our obedience of and service to God, we can almost always find someone who is more (apparently) faulty than we are and at least within our own thoughts (though sometimes with our facial expressions and even our words) judge them.

J.K McKee in his book One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit opposes a Gentile (Christian) from adhering to the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews as a matter of covenant obligation. Although McKee has other reasons for believing in the “One Law” for Jews and Gentiles, he states that relating to the commandments as an obligation can lead to a form of legalism and judgmentalism within One Law Christian communities.

I think McKee is simply describing human nature. I think the “cure” if there is one, is for each of us to focus on our own lives, consider where we are called to serve God, and to attend to our own “observance,” however we choose to define it.

God is the righteous judge of the world. We, as the people we are now, are to judge no one but ourselves and even then, it would be good if we didn’t judge ourselves too harshly or in too lenient a manner. Since striking the proper balance in assessing our own service to the Almighty will take a lifetime to master (regardless of how young or old you are when you take up the task), there should be little time in your life to be concerned about how well someone else is doing.

Dr. Ira Weiss wasn’t worried about any other Jew being late in reciting Mincha, only about himself. As an Orthodox Jew, he knew the standards by which his service to God was measured. The Rebbe reminded him of the higher duty the doctor had to his patients and that God was a lot more understanding of human frailty and limitations than we are as human beings.

jewish-repentanceThe Rebbe was a great believer that it was never too late to make teshuvah (repent) and to return to God. When we fail, we must remind ourselves that we too can repent and return, and that the struggle between our humanity and God’s perfection is one we will live with every day of our lives. It’s not perfection we seek in this lifetime, it’s persistence, endurance, striving to climb higher, and forgiveness when we fall. Don’t worry about the other guy. He’s got enough worries of his own without you adding to his list. God will help him even as he does you…and me.

The Non-existent Scar

Impeached witnesses are not considered guilty until they have impeached themselves.

-Makkos 5a, Rabbeinu Chananel

When someone says something uncomplimentary to us, we are of course displeased. The intensity of our reaction to an unkind remark, however, depends upon ourselves.

A former patient called me one day, sobbing hysterically because her husband had told her that she was a poor wife and a failure as a mother. When she finally calmed down, I asked her to listen carefully to me.

“I think that the scar on your face is very ugly,” I said. There was a moment of silence. “Pardon me?” she said.

“I spoke very distinctly, but I will repeat what I said. `The scar on your face is repulsive.’

“I don’t understand, doctor,” the woman said. “I don’t have a scar on my face.”

“Then what did you think of my remark?” I asked.

“I couldn’t understand what you were talking about,” she said.

“You see,” I pointed out, “when I say something insulting to you, and you know that it is not true, you do not become hysterical. You just wonder what in the world it is that I am talking about. That should also have been your reaction to your husband’s offensive remarks. Instead of losing your composure, you should have told him that he is delusional. The reason you reacted as extremely as you did is because you have doubts about yourself as to your adequacy as a wife and mother.”

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 30

Sorry to start of today’s “morning meditation” with such a long quote, but I think it was worth it. R. Twerski’s therapeutic intervention was absolutely brilliant (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling and formerly was a family therapist and Child Protective Services social worker). It’s so simple and yet so profound, and it speaks not only to this one woman’s situation but I think to all of us in our lives.

I couldn’t help but relate this article to recent events in my online life. After all, I’m human and I have doubts just like any other man. When someone calls me on my issues, real or imagined, I have to pause and consider whether they could be right about me, and if so, to ask if this is a “call to action” for me to make changes.

despairMany times, especially online, but also in “real life,” we are insulted, accused, harassed, and maligned, often by the people we love and care about, the people we’re most vulnerable to. As we see in R. Twerski’s example above, a woman was insulted by her husband about her poor performance as a wife and mother. Nothing could cut deeper to her heart than those statements and the person making them.

How we react should depend on whether or not the allegations are true, but that’s not how most of us typically respond. It’s like driving down the road and having someone suddenly cut us off in traffic, honk their horn, and then give us “the finger.” They’re not only being aggressive but behaving as if we’ve done something wrong.

How do we react to that? Either we get scared or angry…or both. Incidents of road rage start this way.

But what if, assuming we’ve done nothing wrong, we were to respond with bewilderment? “What the heck set that guy off,” we might ask ourselves.

And if someone blows up at us on the web or in person, again, assuming what they’re saying isn’t true about us (we don’t have a scar on our face), what prevents us from also simply becoming confused but not experiencing anger or pain?

Because we fear that there really is something wrong with us. I think that’s the result of sin and guilt.

Face it. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Far from it in fact. We have sinned. Chances are we will sin against God and other people today. It is very likely that we will sin again tomorrow…or we fear that we will.

feverIf a person goes around always worried about who they are, their past failures, their fear of future failures, and whether or not their shortcomings are obvious to everyone around them, then it’s easy to respond with anger or pain when insulted. We’ve already primed ourselves to go off half-cocked when someone gives us a reason.

But for most people, most of the time, the issues they worry about are more imagined than real.

It’s like the woman in Rabbi Twerski’s commentary. She didn’t have an ugly scar on her face, and R. Twerski at least implies that she’s not a bad mother and wife either. She only reacted as if she were because she feared that this was the truth of her existence, even when it wasn’t.

All the elaborate proofs, all the philosophical machinations, none of that will ever stand you firmly on your feet. There’s only one thing that can give you that, and that’s your own inherent conviction.

For even as your own mind flounders, you yourself know that this is so, and know that you believe it to be so. It is a conviction all the winds of the earth cannot uproot that has carried us to this point in time, that has rendered us indestructible and timeless.

For it comes from within and from the heritage of your ancestors who believed as well, back to the invincible conviction of our father, Abraham, a man who took on the entire world.

The doubts, the hesitations, the vacillations, all these come to you from the outside. Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.

Inside is boundless power.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

revenge-and-happinessKnowing yourself is very helpful for a number of reasons. If you know who you are and what you are about, then whenever someone accuses you of something that is untrue, you cannot be hurt. Even if the person who is upset with you is very dear to you, if they are wrong about you, it may injure you somewhat, but not in the same way as if what they said were the truth. If you are accused of being a failure, if you really aren’t, how does that affect you vs. how you react if you fear being a failure?

Also, knowing yourself helps you recognize when you have sinned and reveals to you your own faults. This is an opportunity to make corrections, to improve yourself, to repent, to return to God, to make right the wrongs you’ve committed against others, to make the person you will be tomorrow better than the person you were yesterday.

Stealing is abhorrent to most people. They would never think of taking something which does not belong to them. Still, they may not be bothered in the least by making an appointment and keeping the other person waiting for a few minutes. Rabbi Luzzato points out that this double standard is a fallacy, because stealing others’ time is no less a crime than stealing their possessions.

Moreover, stealing time is worse in one aspect: stolen objects can be returned, but stolen time can never be repaid.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 29

Worry, guilt, and self-recrimination are thieves. They steal your time and your peace of mind. If someone steals your money, that can always be returned, but once a moment in time has elapsed, you can never get it back. Also, even if you achieve peace of mind in the future, you have wasted time worrying in the past (and in the present) needlessly, when you could have been devoting that time to improving yourself, to helping others, to serving God.

Which is more important: five minutes or five cents? Everyone will say that “time” is more important. But still we throw it away more often than money. And in Jewish consciousness, killing time is suicide… on the installment plan.

from the “Ask the Rabbi” column

Rabbi Twerski also writes:

If someone has wrongfully infringed on our time, it is proper that we should call it to his or her attention. As with other offenses, we should try to sincerely forgive if the offender changes his or her ways. If we have infringed on someone else’s time, we must be sure to ask forgiveness and to remember that teshuvah consists of a sincere resolution not to repeat the same act again.

If someone points something out to you that needs correction, something you may have been unaware of or something you’ve been avoiding dealing with, they’re doing you a favor. Assuming their intent isn’t malicious and their attitude isn’t hostile or condescending, they are acting as an agent of change and providing you with the opportunity to improve.

soaring_hawkIf, however, a person’s intent is hostile or vindictive, and their desire is to injure you, perhaps because they feel you’ve injured them…if their allegations are wholly untrue, then you should ask yourself, “Why are they acting this way? What could have prompted this outburst?”

That’s certainly better than responding by feeling guilt or shame or by lashing out at the other person, perpetuating the cycle of “You hurt me, now I’ll hurt you.” Every time you give in to that temptation, you are stealing time from that other person and wasting your own. You’re also destroying your peace of mind and their’s and stealing our time and service from God.

“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”

-Soren Kierkegaard

Repentance and Regret

The Torah teaches us that it is never too late to change.

Changing for the better is called doing teshuva. The Hebrew word teshuva, which is often translated as repentance, actually means to “return.” Return to God. Return to our pure self.

How do people become interested in self-improvement?

People have faults. The faults they have cause them to suffer in some way or another. This suffering limits an individual’s freedom and is often painful. Hence, people want to change… to improve. To be free once again.

How does one change for the better? How does one do teshuva?

There are four steps of teshuva.

-Rabbi Mordechai Rottman
“Four Steps to Change”

I know an exploration of teshuva, which is commonly translated as “repentance,” seems more appropriate to Yom Kippur than Passover, but part of the inspiration to invest more in myself along this path and at this time comes from here:

The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people had the same problem in Egypt. Only 1/5 of the Jewish people were on a high enough spiritual level to leave Egypt — and they were on the 49th level of Tuma, spiritual degradation — and were within a hair’s breadth of being destroyed.

Yet, what is amazing is that in the next 49 days they raised themselves to the spiritual level to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai! Each day we climbed one step higher in spirituality and holiness. Many people study one of the “48 Ways to Wisdom” (Ethics of the Fathers, 6:6 — found in the back of most siddurim, Jewish prayer books) each day in the Sephirat HaOmer period between Pesach and Shavuot — which will be explained below — as a means to personal and spiritual growth. This is a propitious time for perfecting one’s character!

Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Commentary on Passover (Shabbat Chol Hamo’ed) (Exodus 13:17-15:26)

I know this is midrash and for most people, especially Christians, the above statement cannot be reasonably derived from scripture. Roll with it, OK? The midrash teaches an important spiritual lesson.

Rabbi Packouz suggests Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom (there are actually 50 of them) series as the perfect companion to accompany the days between Pesach and Shavuot for those seeking to elevate themselves spiritually.

But the first step, at least in my way of thinking, is teshuva, turning away from sin, especially habitual sin, and turning back toward God.

In Judaism, repenting of sins is more than just praying “I’m sorry” to God and maybe saying “I’m sorry” to anyone you’ve hurt. It’s a four-step process:

  1. Regret. To regret what we have done wrong.
  2. Leaving the negativity behind. To stop dwelling on the transgression in thought and action.
  3. Verbalization. To verbally state the transgression.
  4. Resolution for the future. To be determined not to let the transgression happen again.

guiltyThat might seem like only a little bit more effort than what we’ve come to expect in the Church, but that short list can be unpackaged to represent a lot of depth. I plan to take each step and explore it as fully as I can, both for my edification and yours.


What is regret and how is it different from guilt?

Well , we all know what guilt is. That uneasy queasy feeling that we have done something terribly wrong that can never be fixed…

But how is regret different?

Here is an example of regret:

An eccentric but wealthy, elderly acquaintance tells you to meet him at 2:30 pm on Sunday afternoon at Starbucks for coffee.

At 2:00 pm you are busy watching a great movie and decide not to show up to the 2:30 meeting.

That evening you find out that this elderly gentleman made the 2:30 appointment with 10 people, you being one of the 10.

Only five out of 10 arrived at the meeting. To each of the five who showed up, your eccentric acquaintance gave a bank check for $50,000 dollars.

Now you know what regret is. The feeling of missed opportunity.

When you find out that you missed out on 50 grand for a stupid movie, you feel regret, not guilt.

When we go against the will of God, the feeling we are supposed to have is regret. What a lost opportunity! We lost a piece of eternity!

When we have done wrong, whether an impulsive and momentary act of unintentional sin or repeated acts of intentional sin, it is normal and expected to feel guilty. Some people only feel guilty when they are caught or confronted about their sin, while others wear guilt around their shoulders like a bitter shroud, clinging to its fabric day and night. Rabbi Rottman describes guilt as that ”uneasy queasy feeling that we have done something terribly wrong that can never be fixed,” but the first step in repentance isn’t guilt, it’s regret.

In the example above, we see the difference between the two, but of these two experiences, guilt is much easier because, unless our soul is completely unfeeling, experiencing guilt is almost automatic.

I blame myselfGuilt is a response to doing wrong and to thinking thoughts like, “I’m a no good filthy scumbag. I can’t do anything right. God must hate me because I keep sinning. What’s the use of trying to be better when it always boomerangs on me?”

As you can see, feeling guilty doesn’t lead one to initiate change, it does just the opposite. Feeling profound guilt can be paralyzing and actually perpetuate the cycle of sin rather than change it.

We regret, as in the example above, a golden opportunity to reap great rewards. Making teshuva yields great rewards. It’s an opportunity to reconcile with the Creator of the Universe. He holds wonderful gifts for us but we have to show up at the appointment He makes with Him. Guilt keeps us hiding inside our houses, under our beds, quivering in the shadows. Regret is the feeling we have when we’ve stupidly thrown away the chance to receive free money (citing the above example) and to otherwise enrich our lives. God is a wealthy benefactor who only wants to do good for us, not to punish us for every sin we commit.

God knows we’re imperfect. God is waiting to help us. But we have to regret our sins as events that have prevented us from receiving His kindness and generosity and see that if we continue to commit those sins, we continue throwing away all of those gifts.

God is a personal God. He is aware of us. We are in His presence. He is paying attention. God is communicating to us through His world of beauty and design. He is here and available. The Almighty Creator of this whole universe is saying: My child, I love you. I created you to give you pleasure. Come, let’s explore the world together.

The Creator of the universe loves you? Wake up! That’s exciting news!

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“The Power of Awe”
Step Four in 48 Ways to Wisdom

Look at your life as you’ve lead it up to this point. There are such a variety of people who may read this blog that I’m sure you represent all kinds of different experiences. Some of you may be very spiritually elevated, very close to the Creator through faith in the Master. Others may be barely hanging on to faith at all because of the seeming hopelessness of your lives, because of your apparent inability to shake off sin and guilt.

Feeling guilty is the lazy way of reacting. A guilty person resigns himself to keeping his faults and does not try to take actions to improve.

Don’t use guilt feelings to justify laziness and procrastination. If a person tends to think in terms of guilt, when he hears an idea he will say to himself, “How awful it is that I’m not following that idea.”

It is more productive to keep focus on what you can do to implement the principle or concept.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Avoid Using Guilt to Justify Inaction”
from Today’s Daily Lift #358

jewish-repentanceWe have free will to choose obedience or disobedience to God. Even when we disobey, we have free will to allow our sin to inspire guilt or regret. We have free will to select inaction or action that will lead to change. You may have sinned for years in secret or in public and feel incapable of managing giving up that sin. You may have advanced in many other areas but still fail in one or two that hold you back from a closer relationship with God. You may say to yourself that if you’ve failed in the same way for so very long, that breaking the sin habit is impossible and you are a slave to it forever.

But guilt over missing previous opportunities, if turned to regret, doesn’t have to stop you from keeping future appointments and grasping the next opportunity offered to you by God:

In each one of us there is an Egypt and a Pharaoh and a Moses and Freedom in a Promised Land. And every point in time is an opportunity for another Exodus.

Egypt is a place that chains you to who you are, constraining you from growth and change. And Pharaoh is that voice inside that mocks your gambit to escape, saying, “How could you attempt being today something you were not yesterday? Aren’t you good enough just as you are? Don’t you know who you are?”

Moses is the liberator, the infinite force deep within, an impetuous and all-powerful drive to break out from any bondage, to always transcend, to connect with that which has no bounds.

But Freedom and the Promised Land are not static elements that lie in wait. They are your own achievements which you may create at any moment, in any thing that you do, simply by breaking free from whoever you were the day before.

Last Passover you may not have yet begun to light a candle. Or some other mitzvah still waits for you to fulfill its full potential. This year, defy Pharaoh and light up your world. With unbounded light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Inside Story on Passover”

Are you beginning to see why this is a good season to begin to make positive spiritual changes in your life?

You aren’t an innocent bystander in your own life, waiting on a street corner for God to drive up in a bus and offer you a ride. You don’t have to wait for God, God is waiting for you. Every time you are tempted to sin is an opportunity to keep an appointment with Him. Who knows what He has in store for you? You’ll never find out if you keep missing appointments, if you keep hiding from opportunities.

If you think I find all this easy, you’re wrong. I’m writing this in part to process my own experience and grasp the meaning of regret as a motivating force. This is only the first of four steps in the process of repenting to God. A single “I’m sorry for my sins” prayer just isn’t going to do it. Cheap grace is not sold in God’s storehouse. Salvation may be a free gift of God through grace, but you still have to show up to accept it and you need to be in a state of purity to get in the door.

purityThat state of purity, the mikvah process if you will, begins with teshuva and teshuva begins with experiencing authentic regret at having missed out on God’s blessings up until now. Seeing sin as a missed opportunity to draw nearer to God takes a lot of effort. Setting mind numbing guilt aside and allowing regret to enter your life is no easy task. If you stumble, that’s not really unexpected. But regret stumbling rather than letting it tell you some sad and sorry story about how lousy you are. Regret helps you get back up again. Guilt keeps you on the ground eating dust and ashes.

I hope to write about the second step in making teshuva soon.

The next step is Leaving Negativity Behind.

Publishing Mistakes

That doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you recognize the value in researching, teaching, collaborating, and correcting mistakes. That’s why the Move The Web Forward folks went on to encourage writers to “keep your posts updated.”

And that’s why Rebecca Murphey, when discussing how to get better at writing JavaScript, said:

“The number one thing that will make you better at writing JavaScript is writing JavaScript. It’s OK if you cringe at it six months from now. It’s OK if you know it could be better if you only understood X, Y, or Z a little bit better. Cultivate dissatisfaction, and fear the day when you aren’t disappointed with the code you wrote last month.”

In this case, Rebecca was talking about actually writing code, not writing about code. But the same principle applies: you will get better when you make mistakes and correct them.

-Louis Lazaris
“Publish What You Learn”
Smashing Magazine

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Psalm 107:10-16 (ESV)

No, I’m not a programmer, but a great deal of what these “meditations” represent are writing about what I have learned and being open about my mistakes (which is rare in just about any kind of blogging…particularly religious blogging, in spite of what Lazaris just said).

The Psalm writer encourages us (OK, he was writing to a Jewish audience, but I think I can stretch the interpretation to include all of those who were created in the image of God) to acknowledge God and to thank Him for redeeming us, especially when we have been redeemed from our own stupidity and ignorance.

Publicly admitting your mistakes and even thanking God for getting you out of the mess you created is easier said than done. Even after God has redeemed you and relieved you from the consequences (or some of them) of your actions and the punishment for willful sin, there’s still the guilt and shame to deal with. Thanking God for being redeemed is still a lot like saying that you’re a screw up and you did something immeasurably stupid. Blogging about the same “immeasurably stupid” stuff is making the same admission, except it’s to people and not to God.

And yet, there’s supposed to be some sort of benefit to doing both, even though it makes you (and me) feel like crawling under the nearest slime-covered rock and hiding there for the next 70 or 80 years.

The 73rd mitzvah is that we are commanded to verbally acknowledge the sins we have committed before G-d (exalted be He), when we come to do teshuvah (to repent). This is vidui (verbal confession), the idea of which is to say, ” ‘O G-d, I have sinned, I have committed iniquity, I have transgressed and done …” One should elaborate verbally and ask for atonement on this transgression with all the eloquence at his command.

-Translated by Rabbi Berel Bell
From “Sefer Hamitzvot in English”
Confessing Sins
Positive Commandment 73

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. –Matthew 23-24 (ESV)

It is said that if we have sinned against God, we must seek forgiveness from God, but if we’ve sinned against man, we must seek forgiveness from that man before God will forgive us. If we do not ask the man for forgiveness, God will not forgive us, either.

And if we do seek forgiveness from man and it is not given, will God then forgive us in the man’s stead?

I don’t know. Logic says that God will forgive you if you’ve made your best effort to seek forgiveness from one you’ve sinned against, but I’m not sure. I only know we are supposed to do our best to live at peace with others, regardless of what they’ve done to us…even if they hate us.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

The Bible talks about forgiving others and seeking forgiveness from others and seeking forgiveness from God, but it never talks about forgiving yourself. It seems as if the last person you must forgive is yourself. Otherwise, you live with guilt, shame, and condemnation for the rest of your life, paying for a crime that has already been atoned for in Heaven (or so we hope).

There is a common misconception that life is about being in the right place at the right time. In truth, how you experience life has more to do with what is happening inside you as with what is happening outside.

Like riding a roller coaster without being prepared, if you are not well-tuned to the channel of life, a symphony of miracles could come across as cacophony from the boiler room.

This is what the sages call z’chut –sometimes translated as merit. It means a refinement of the soul, so that it will be precisely on the right frequency and static-clean.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

People can be very cruel and spiteful, sometimes even to themselves. Do I need to have my frequency fine tuned?

Yeah, I know. I sound more like Yom Kippur is coming up rather than Passover.