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Parsha Mitzvot: Shofetim: Mitzvah 528- Concept 610 II



It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;
I am he who knew what it was to be evil.
Walt Whitman

I was ten-years old and decided that I would review the Yom Kippur confession at the beginning of Elul so that I could do Teshuva for all the terrible things I had done wrong during the year. (Except, of course, the well-deserved treatment of one of my sisters, which I determined should be listed as good!) By the time I finished carefully reading the text, I began to think that I was an evil person. Almost everything on the list applied to me, and I was certain that the things I didn’t understand were just as applicable. I was devastated by guilt.

I couldn’t even go to the Source of All Knowledge, my father zt”l, because I didn’t want him to know how evil I was. I was my usual quiet self at dinner, (although a certain sister would claim that it was unusual: Who are you going to believe? Thank you.) My father turned to me and said, “I saw you reviewing the Yom Kippur Machzor. Why?”

“He wanted to read the confession so he could do Teshuva now instead of waiting for Yom Kippur,” my sister offered, “maybe that’s why he is so quiet; he realized how evil he is!”

How did she know?

“Not a good idea,” my father said, “it may make you feel guilty, and there is no guilt in Judaism. It’s terrible for you!”

“What are you supposed to feel?”

“Thomas Edison once said, ‘I haven’t failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.’ Just say that you have figured out a bunch of ways that don’t work well for a boy as wonderful as you!”

“The officers shall continue speaking to the people and say, ‘Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows, like his heart.” (Deuteronomy 20:8) Rabbi Yose HaGlili explained that this declaration was directed at someone who was fearful and fainthearted because he was a sinner and knew that he was unworthy of God’s help. (Rashi)

Perhaps Rabbi Yossi is not describing a sinner, but a person who considers himself an evil sinner. We all sin. We all make mistakes. The person who feels guilty can “melt the hearts of his brothers” by leading them to feel guilty. Their guilt will inhibit them. They will enter battle feeling undeserving of God’s help.

The person who finds ten thousand ways that don’t work, is also looking for what does. He deserves God’s help and has no reason to be fearful or fainthearted.

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