15 Tamuz 5781 / Friday, June 25, 2021 | Torah Reading: Balak
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Let Go of Guilt    

Let Go of Guilt

I felt contrite, worried, apprehensive, nervous, anxious, unclear, and unbalanced. I started to cry, pleading with Hashem to forgive me for turning on the light…


I was putting the final touches on my Shabbat-dinner preparations when things started going awry. Since ginger powder looks the same as garlic powder in a jar, I lavishly seasoned my chicken with the former when I realized my mistake. How could I be so careless? I continued to chastise myself for failing to be mindful. Then, although I had intended to light the Shabbat candles precisely eighteen minutes before the start of Shabbat, I found several other things I deemed necessary to do at the time, including checking a recipe on the internet, which now seems so superfluous.


Not being mindful of the time, I said a rather long extended prayer when giving tzedaka before lighting the candles when I realized that Shabbat was about to start. I had nearly used up the eighteen minutes without any awareness of what was occurring. I scrambled to light the candles on time. I could not stop persecuting myself for these lapses of mindfulness. What was happening here? I was upset with myself for causing my own panic.


The commencement of Shabbat was calm enough, and dinner turned out well despite the mix up with the spices. However, shortly after saying the Birkat HaMazon (the blessing after eating bread), I laid down and fell asleep only to awaken several hours later with a start, having realized I did not pray nor say the Bedtime Shema before retiring. I felt my way to the light switch in the small passageway between the bedroom and the restroom and fumbled to put on the light to see what I was doing. I then rinsed my mouth, and let out a loud shriek that awakened my husband. What did I just do? What in the world was I thinking? I have not done this since I became a Ba’alas Teshuva. How could I forget that this was Shabbat? I broke Shabbos!


I felt contrite, worried, apprehensive, nervous, anxious, unclear, and unbalanced. I started to cry, pleading with Hashem to forgive me for turning on the light. I had no excuse for my actions. More importantly, I forgot to employ emuna, which counters such destructive emotions. As the negative thoughts compounded, I tried my best to get back to sleep.


Then in the morning, I thought about the previous night and all that had occurred. I felt like I needed to talk to Hashem and connect to Him in personal prayer. I apologized again and asked for clarification. It was then that a thought popped into my mind. Hashem was showing me that perfection is not what He desires and that this tendency actually was working to my detriment, causing me to over-think things and not live in the present moment.


Hashem does not want us to feel guilty over unintentional mistakes. Hashem orchestrated the series of mishaps to lovingly guide me away from perfectionism and guilt to living in the present moment. Guilt blocks joy. I finally got it! I understood. Sometimes we feel guilty when things go wrong, but we must remember two things that I happened to forget until the Almighty reminded me. They are: (1) Judaism is not a religion of guilt. It is we who bring this negative trait to the table, so we must let it go, and (2) Hashem creates circumstances to help us in order to teach us things we need to learn.


To solidify this important lesson, the day after Shabbat, it was no coincidence that I read an amazing d’var Torah (teaching) that summed it all up:  It reiterated that Hashem judges us by our will (ratzon) and our desire and intention (kavana). It went on to say that Hashem holds us responsible only for what we try to do even if we fail. Our Sages teach that we have control over nothing more than our will. The ba’al davar (imagination of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination) prompts us to think that we are, G-d forbid, masters of our own destiny and are responsible for outcomes. This is actually arrogant thinking---pure haughtiness, the opposite of bittul, the nullification of the ego. We can easily become guilt-ridden and depressed from thinking that our chance has been lost and that we are a failure in our relationship with Hashem just because we make mistakes. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Hashem appreciates when our will is to do His will, even if we have a ways to go. He controls the outcome of our effort, not us. All we can do is try. It helps to see Him within the challenges and remember that Hashem forgives us. Only when we forgive ourselves can we forgive others. Developing self-love comes first. Certainly, mindfulness, which is living in the present moment and being attentive and focused on the task at hand, is a goal toward which we must also work. This is an important lesson, but so, too, is letting go of guilt. Hashem is kind, loves us more than we realize, and is far bigger than our foolish illusions and negative imaginations, which are the ploy of the yetzer hara. So we must strive to forgive ourselves, be patient because Hashem is patient, and internalize the lessons so we grow from our mistakes, whatever they may be.

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