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Jewish World Review
Oct. 5, 2006
/ 13 Tishrei, 5767
Rebbetzin Feige Twerski
It's hard for me to differentiate between guilt and selfimprovement.
I feel this especially now. There are three
people in the immediate community who are seriously ill.
The news is frightening. There are a few small things I have
changed in the hopes that this will serve to benefit them. But
in the scheme of things they seem minor. I sometimes feel
guilty about feeling happy with my family and security when
others don't have this. In another vein, does working on
controlling anger count if after ten calm days one explodes?
There is a great difference between conventional guilt and
the Jewish concept of guilt. Conventional guilt keeps one
enmeshed in the past, wallowing and repeatedly obsessing
about past wrongdoing and misdeeds. It leaves one feeling unworthy
In contrast, Jewish guilt means regretfully admitting inappropriate
behavior and moving on to assimilate and integrate the insights
gained into one's ensuing daily living. It is present and future oriented.
It maintains that to err is human and no experience in life is
a failure if we learn from it and are modified by it.
Your sensitivity to the necessity for personal contributions to the
troubling events of our times are right on target. We all desperately
seek relief from the terrible darkness that surrounds us, both collectively
and individually. It mandates that each of us light a candle,
in our own way, given our unique resources and individual circumstances.
Each of us has to assume responsibility to effect the change
that we want to see.
In the Book of Ruth, we read of Elimelech, a wealthy leader of
the Jewish people. At a time of his people's suffering and travail,
he chose to distance himself and abandon them. Erroneously, he
assumed that since the calamity had not affected him directly, he
was free of responsibility for his fellow people. He paid with his life
for this reprehensible attitude.
You have correctly identified a most critical area of contribution
- the work we need to do in the inner landscape of our person.
Working and effecting change internally on our character attributes
and attitudes toward life is the most productive approach to
creating a better world. Precisely because it is unquestionably the
most difficult battlefront, the very Heavens stand in awe of every
effort to confront our shortcomings and proceed to put forth the
requisite toil to achieve personal change and growth. Rabbi Yisroel
of Salant commented that the loudest sound in the universe is that
of a person breaking old behavior patterns and putting constructive
ones in their place. Every time we wish to respond in the predictable,
unacceptable mode of old, whether in anger, pride, selfishness
or excessive ego-involvement, and by dint of exercising control and
invoking the better part of ourselves we hold our tongue or modify
our reaction accordingly, it is of ultimate value.
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Your concern that this position of control cannot be maintained
100 percent of the time and hence the subsequent outbursts invalidate
the success of your resolve is unwarranted. In all of growth
there are relapses. We move up a number of steps and then predictably
regress a notch or two. This is the nature of human growth
and should not discourage or dissuade us. We must persevere. Old
patterns are not easily changed and every bit of effort exerted brings
us closer to achieving the purpose and the reason that we were put
on this earth. This is the case under all circumstances and most
especially in our troubled times.
These are the best offerings that we can bring in an effort to
promote healing and positive energy into the world. These are the
loftiest expressions of self-sacrifice. As one of the commentaries
notes, "To live with Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying G-d's Name, is
an even greater achievement than to die with Kiddush Hashem. A
lifetime dedicated to self-transcendence, dedicating oneself to the
will of G-d, surpasses the once in a lifetime transcendence of martyrdom.
Not to die for G-d, but to set our will and impulse aside in
deference to Him and His understanding of the appropriate behavior
that is ultimately in our best interest and should be our goal.
You write that under the circumstances you feel guilty about
being happy with your family and your security. It is important
to understand that from a Torah perspective that everything we
are given in life, both the desirable and that which appears to be
less desirable, are all part of Divine Providence and orchestration.
Having "good" things in life is not arbitrary or a product of "luck."
It is all part of the "tailor-made" context of our life, structured and
prescribed by the Almighty as necessary for the unique challenges
with which we must deal.
The challenge of adversity demands a perspective of courage and
strength. The challenge of "good" demands a perspective of sharing,
appreciation, and abiding gratitude. To sustain an attitude of feeling
blessed is not an easy matter. Human beings generally focus not on
what we have but what we would like to have. To enjoy security and
family is not only appropriate, it is imperative.
Our Sages teach us
that one of the reasons we recite blessings throughout the day is to
make us conscious of G-d's beneficence that surrounds us - food,
clothing, fragrant flowers in bloom, milestones, holidays, and even
life itself, as we recite the "modeh ani" blessing at the dawning of
each new day of existence with which we are favored. These are all
gifts for our enjoyment. As a matter of fact, we are told that after
our mortal existence we will have to answer for the legitimate joys
in life that were available to us and of which we did not partake.
Guilt is not a legitimate response to blessing.
efforts to share our resources, gladdening the hearts of others,
being a source of enveloping light and maintaining a positive stance
for our family are the constructive and productive expressions
of gratitude for the gifts granted and blessings rendered that the
Almighty would hold most dear.
In the merit of the sincere quest to do what is right as you articulated
so well, may G-d grant all of us the ultimate light that will
illuminate our lives, individually, and the world as a whole.
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Rebbetzin Feige Twerski of Milwaukee, Wisconsin has devoted her life to Jewish education and Outreach, giving lectures worldwide on a myriad of Judaic subjects. She is a mother of 11 children, and many grandchildren whose number she refuses to divulge. She serves as the Rebbetzin along side her husband, Rabbi Michel Twerski, of Congregation Beth Jehudah of Milwaukee. Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, Shaar Press