Insight #6: Sin, Guilt, and Self-Respect

Did you know that Judaism actually doesn’t believe in guilt?!

You may ask – what do you mean? You don’t have a Jewish mother?!

The answer is like this: when Jews get into anything – for example, being doctors, lawyers or accountants – they get into it big. Top-notch Jewish lawyers, doctors and accountants are abundant. It’s the same with guilt. When Jewish mothers get into guilt, they do the job properly – they really get into it big. Guilt becomes very abundant!

So what actually is guilt?

Guilt is the feeling that I’m bad because I did something wrong. It’s very debilitating. People who feel this way often lack energy, feel down and have low self-esteem. In addition if we feel we’re bad, it tends to lead to doing bad – because, after all, that’s what we are!

In Judaism we say you should regret your actions not your self. You are good, you just made a mistake. Regretting mistakes motivates us to change; feeling guilty about ourselves just debilitates.

Chet

It’s an interesting thing that there’s no word for “sin” in Hebrew. In English the word “sin” is usually associated with feelings of guilt and being a bad person. In Hebrew the word translated as sin is “chet”. Chet actually means a mistake. The word appears in reference to an arrow which misses the target – “L’hachti et hamatarah” means to miss the target. The archer isn’t “bad” – he just made a mistake – maybe he had insufficient strength, was lacking concentration etc. When we’re selfish or mean, we’re not bad people – we simply made a mistake. Really, we are confused about what we want, about what will give us the most pleasure. We think that being selfish will get us more pleasure, but the truth is that we get more pleasure from giving. We made a mistake and lost out on a deeper sense of satisfaction in life. We’re not bad.

Teaching Children

This is an important idea when it comes to raising kids. Most people today grow up feeling a bit down on themselves, because every time they did something wrong as a child they were told – bad boy, bad girl. They then grow up feeling that they’re bad. As adults, they continue telling themselves the same message every time they make a mistake. I’m bad. Rather what parents should say to their children is: “You’re such a good boy, you’re such a good girl… how could you do that?” This way, children grow up feeling good about themselves, learning from their mistakes without taking away from their self-esteem.

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