A Guilt-Edged Heart …writes Rabbi Laibl Wolf

October 1, 2014 by Rabbi Laibl Wolf
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Guilt is complex business. Think of its elements: should have, must have, couldn’t, if only, I wish, shut my big mouth, couldn’t help it, couldn’t resist, and more.

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

And where does it fester? In the heart? Yet doesn’t it also reside in the mind? And doesn’t it also induce stomach cramps and loosens the bowels? Further, it profoundly affects sleep, with a nasty consequence of obesity (the 3.00 a.m shpatzir around the house inevitably ends up at the fridge). Yep, pretty complex.

It also contributes significantly to the economy. Consider all the comfy sitting chairs that psychiatrists world-wide purchase for clients who need to express their guilt feelings to perfect (albeit lettered) strangers. And let us not forget the hefty fees that accompany that psychological salve. Then there is the government component of generous contribution to ease the heavy burden guilt bearers bare and bear. The pharmaceutical industry also earns its pound of flesh by producing dullness-inducing potions that are calculated to neutralize symptoms while leaving the cause pristinely untouched. By the way – it also makes huge profits.

Guilt has also been shown to be a genetic ailment. As Erma Bombeck has astutely noted: “Guilt is like mothers. Everyone in the world has at least one. And it’s passed down like a torch to the next generation.” (Anyone who writes titles like: The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, and If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?, surely experiences guilt first hand!). In other words, guilt is enshrined in our genes. Jewish people in particular have a long history of predilection towards guilt, especially Jewish mothers – usually in relation to the spoonfuls of cholent and kishke that were rudely rebuffed by deprived six month olds.

The old English word is ‘gylt’ (they couldn’t spell!) was the etymological precursor to ‘guilt’. It is thought that it was originally an acronym for Get Your Life Together because guilt has a way of disrupting the elements of life. It breaks the bond of relationships as readily as it breaks the links to sanity and wellness.

The cure for guilt? – a concept known in spiritual Judaism as Teshuva. This Hebrew word literally means to return to sanity from Self Inflicted Nonsense (SIN). Sin in Hassidic thought is a moment of relative ‘insanity’. The cure to such insanity is a simple process – Teshuva, which has three elements: acknowledgement, resolve, and change. ARC (AAHGG! in old English – as in Asterix.) The wrong is acknowledged; a resolution is made that should the challenge arise again it will be overcome. And when the challenge does arise, it is overcome – change.

However, even if acknowledgment, commitment and change are all present, what happens to the guilt? Here is where the originality of the Alter Rebbe really shines. He explains that when a wrong is committed, a negative spiritual energy is brought into the world. Correcting the error does much more than merely neutralize that energy. It transforms the negative energy into a veritable plus – a positive spiritual addition realizing a rich net worth to the sum total of one’s life.

This Saturday (Shabbat) is Yom Kippur. It provides an amazing opportunity to bring a huge boost to a world that is ailing, and to heal a heart that is wailing – guilt. Why does it heal? Because it repaints all the black angels into glistening white. Guilt is reconfigured – the ugly duckling becomes a graceful swan. No sweat. Any ‘guilt’ now becomes gratuitous – an illusion, a samsara.

Teshuva on Yom Kippur cures a guilt-edged heart.


Rabbi Laibl Wolf is Dean of Spiritgrow – The Josef Kryss Center, Australia

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