HILKHOT TESHUBA 1:1. Feeling shame while repenting

Mid adult man with hand over face,close-up

כיצד מתוודה? אומר אנא ה ‘חטאתי עוויתי פשעתי לפניך, ועשיתי כך וכך, והרי ניחמתי ובושתי במעשיי, ולעולם איני חוזר לדבר זה

We are explaining the Viduy. Yesterday we said that for Maimonides it is necessary to be specific when you verbalize your wrongdoing or mistakes. Then he also tells us that we need to express (and/or awake) two feelings during our confession: in Hebrew: 1. Nihamti 2.UBoshti, “I regret and I am ashamed.” In other words, when we make Viduy we must awaken in ourselves the feeling of regret and remorse, and we should also feel ashamed. The Viduy is not a mechanical and cold confession. It must be accompanied by sincere feelings of Teshuba.

But why should we feel ashamed?

Our rabbis said that “shame” is one of the three elements of the Jewish people’s emotional, mental and ethical make-up. They explained that a Yehudi inherits “genetically” three qualities. Apart from being shy and easy to feel embarrassed (bayshanim), Jews are innately benevolent (gomle hesed) and compassionate (rachmanim). The rabbis considered this to be true to the point that they said that if a Yehudi does not have one of these three characteristics “their ancestors were not present at Mount Sinai” (a euphemism to say that an individual who does not possess these qualities might not be ethnically Jewish).

In addition to considering “shame” as an innate condition of the Jewish character –in contradiction to the “chutzpah” that is supposedly attributed to the Jews– our Hakhamim indicated that “shame” is a necessary step for our Teshuba (repentance) to be complete.

Maimonides writes that when an individual commits a sin, he should confess and say “… I am ashamed of my wrong actions.” The feeling of shame is a critical step in the process os sincere Teshuba . Why? Because unlike the feelings of “guilt” which is intimate and private, shame is the uncomfortable sentiment to know that our bad habits or wrong deeds are known by others. Feeling “shame” while reciting the Viduy (= confession) before God, means that we really know and feel the Presence of God. HaShem is invisible, and it is extremely difficult to be aware of His constant presence. Therefore, we do not easily feel ashamed when we do something wrong before Him privately, as we naturally feel ashamed when we do something wrong in front of other people. Now, if we feel ashamed of our sins when we are in private before God, it means that we have reached a very high level of Emuna (faith). It means that we have clarity regarding His existence. And that His presence is as real to us as the physical presence of other individuals. When the students came to visit him on his deathbed, Ribbi Yohanan ben Zakai blessed them saying יהי רצון שתהא עליכם מורא שמים כמורא בשר ודם, “I wish you would fear and respect God as you fear and respect men.” His students were amazed and said, “Nothing more than that?” And Ribbi Yochanan explained that feeling the presence of God with the same clarity that we feel the presence of other individuals, demonstrates a very high level of faith.

The greater our awareness of the Presence of God, the greater the feeling of shame that would overwhelm us when we repent from our sins before HaShem, and vice versa.

To be continued….