by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
Jewish guilt is a popular topic. It seems that Jews are always finding
something to feel guilty about. Those who talk about Jewish guilt like to
blame Jewish mothers for its continuity. Guilt in general has gotten a bad
rap in our generation. Perhaps even one which is undeserved. This weeks
parsha can help us understand something about the Torah attitude toward
guilt. Maybe after reading this we will learn to have a new appreciation
for Jewish mothers.
Our parsha begins with Moshe sending twelve scouts into The Land of Canaan.
Ten of the scouts return with a report strongly discouraging the Jewish
nation from attempting to conquer the inhabitants of the land. Two scouts,
Yehoshuah and Calev, asserted that they should indeed proceed as planned.
Rashi, (Medieval France), tells us that when the scouts left on their
forty-day journey, they were all upright men - and even leaders of their
tribes. By the time they returned, the ten were prepared, and indeed
perpetrated an evil which we are still shedding tears over.
What made those men act in such a way? The Chofetz Chaim, (d. 1933),
explains that the following was the disagreement between the ten scouts and
the other two scouts. The ten scouts maintained that the Children of Israel
were not worthy of G-d's divine assistance. Their past record was tarnished
through various transgressions, and G-d would not aid them in conquering
the nations of The Land of Canaan. They argued that The Land of Canaan was
a place in which G-d demands perfection. The Jews would never be able to
deliver the behavior expected of them, and they would fall prey to the
nations protecting their homeland. "...that night the people wept" (Numbers
14:1). Jewish guilt.
Calev, who understood G-d's ways appealed to the Jewish nation saying "The
land...is a very very good land. He can give it to us...just don't _REBEL_
against G-d...G-d is with us, so don't be afraid" (Numbers 14:8-9).
The Chofetz Chaim explains that G-d understands we are human with all of
our frailties. Of course G-d has expectations of us. Of course He expects
us to learn what His will is and follow it. That, however, does not
preclude our being imperfect. We are not expected to be angels. G-d has
plenty of angels who can fill that role. Calev spells it out for us. "Just
don't rebel!" That is the criterion for favor from G-d. Try your best, and
What about wrongdoing? What about a tarnished record? For that G-d created
"Teshuvah." Briefly, "Teshuvah" is the mechanism by which we recognize our
regrettable actions, and do our best to make improvements. Having done a
sincere "Teshuvah," we return to our original closeness to G-d, and we need
no longer fear for G-d's anger.
Back to guilt. Dr. Abraham J. Twersky writes in "Let Us Make Man" that
guilt is to the emotions what pain is to the physical body. Physical pain
is very useful and beneficial. Without pain we would not know that we have
touched a flame, or dropped something heavy on our foot, etc. Pain alerts
us to stop whatever it is that we are doing which is inflicting damage on
us. When a person is whole emotionally, doing things which we know are
wrong causes us guilt. The pain we call guilt lets us know that there is
something we ought to stop doing. There is guilt which is founded in morals
and conscience. That is healthy guilt. Guilt which lacks a foundation is
not healthy and needs to be dealt with.
The ten scouts were suffering from fear over their imperfections. Calev
teaches us that it was unfounded. In our own personal journey up the ladder
of spirituality we encounter obstacles. We should not allow guilt to affect
our resolve. We should allow Calev's words to echo in our minds. "Just
don't rebel." We are deserving, we are loved, and we are favored, as long
as we "just don't rebel."
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.