IYYUN Publishing is proud to announce the release of Rabbi DovBer Pinson’s groundbreaking book “Reclaiming the Self: on the Pathway of Teshuvah”, already available in hardcover and kindle, newly translated into Spanish and Russian.
The book offers a unique system of 28 chapters/steps, 1 for each day of the month of Elul. Each chapter contains a synopsis, and a practice. In this informative, inspiring and empowering book, the reader is guided along the pathway of genuine transformation and teshuvah.
Here is an excerpt:
For many people, feeling guilty is an unfortunate fact of life. Whatever the source may be, guilt can be a crushing emotion that, when experienced in its full force, has the power to take over one’s life. People often make decisions based solely on their feelings of guilt. To varying degrees of intensity, guilt appears to be an inevitability of the socially conditioned human being.
In the quest for personal transformation, the issue of guilt must be confronted. Often it is precisely these very feelings of guilt that we must overcome in order to arrive at a genuine desire for change. For the most part, the burden of this puritanical emotion is a colossal impediment along the path of teshuvah. Only after achieving some measure of innocence and inherent goodness can we consciously choose the path of teshuvah. Until guilt has been transcended, the desire to change may be a subconscious reflex born out of negativity.
Guilty feelings are generally accompanied by the emotion of shame. These two are inextricably connected to each other, emerging out the depths of our consciousness. We begin by feeling guilty for doing or not doing something, and then the emotion of shame immediately follows — a feeling of embarrassment over what has been done or not done.
Upon reflection, a more subtle difference between the concepts of guilt and shame emerges. Guilt is inwardly directed, whereas shame is outwardly oriented. Guilt is an ill feeling harbored against oneself, arising after one breaks a code of conduct. Shame on the other hand is an emotion generated by our perception of other people’s expectations, real or imagined. We may feel judged by others and subsequently we feel shame.
Guilt, on the other hand, is a self-referential emotion resulting from the psychological tension that stems from a perceived discrepancy between one’s actions and one’s intentions or ideals. To feel guilty, there first needs to be a standard that one aims to adhere to. Guilt can only exist within the context of a behavioral template.
Guilt is negative emotional baggage that, when held on to, becomes heavier and more difficult to relinquish, eventually weighing down the person completely. It invades, pollutes and destroys any positive feelings one may harbor toward oneself.
In extreme cases, guilt can be so burdensome that it can lead one to believe that he is in fact soiled or contaminated. Sustaining this feeling is the polar opposite of taking oneself lightly. It is an anchor that drags us downward and perpetuates self-resentment. The end result is a devastating sense of immobility, of being trapped. Slowly, spiritual suffocation sets in under the strain of looming guilt.
One of the most prevalent manifestations of guilt is within the parent/child relationship. Often parents idealize their role and, when faced with the imperfections of their own parental or general behavior, a sense of guilt develops for not living up to the expectations they had for themselves. The guilt emerges because an inner ideal was transgressed. Children experience this same emotion when the unrealistic expectations of their parents become their own and they fall short of these ideals. There is a sense of guilt for not being their best. The inevitable conclusion of this paradigm is a life plagued by guilt.
Guilt follows the feeling that we have broken a standard that is not our own, a model of behavior that has been imposed upon us. One who has been instructed by society, educators, or parents on how to behave in certain circumstances, only to misbehave when in those same circumstances, falls short of those standards and will unavoidably feel guilty.
The feeling itself piggybacks on a sense of having transgressed the enforced standard of behavior. There is self-questioning: “How could I do this when this is not the thing that I am supposed to be doing?” The key phrase in this question is: ‘Supposed to’. This implies a sense of externally imposed expectations such as persuasion, education, environmental standards or social norms that were never owned as one’s own inner code. Guilt is triggered when one deviates from these perceived expectations.
The burden of guilt is often only present in response to others’ demands or desires. A person in this condition works very hard to think, feel or act in the way others believe he should think, feel or act. With guilt there is a total eclipse of the authentic I. The I of the self becomes the other. In this estrangement of I, one lives to actualize an image of self which others demand and shape for him. The super-ego, as some would call it, becomes externalized and one’s sense of identity come from external impositions, rather than from an internally generated connection to the seed of self. Expectations and directions come from without of oneself, as an external authority, rather than from within, as an internal conviction.
When we consciously set our own standard of behavior — mindfully determining our conduct according to what we believe to be right — then if, and when, we do happen to transgress our code of conduct, neurotically charged feelings of guilt are not engendered.
When we do indeed transgress, we may be disappointed with ourselves, and we should be, but these feelings will not be coupled with the heavy burden of guilt. Certainly we will not wallow in our disappointment if we truly understand that whatever we can damage, we can fix, — and it is up to us to change our behavior and realign our priorities.
Fascinatingly, there is not one Hebrew word that accurately defines the sense of guilt. In Biblical Hebrew, there is a word for ‘shame’, busha and for ‘regret’, charatah, but there is no word for guilt. Guilt is not a Torah idea. Regret yes, as regret can be a positive emotion if it is focused on a deed done or not done, and coupled with a resolve to amend or alter behavior. But guilt is irredeemable as it seeks to turn the harsh judgment inward upon the doer himself, with no resolve for action. Guilt is a purely a negative feeling in and of itself, with no resulting impetus to do anything about that which makes one feel guilty. When these feelings are not accompanied by a resolve to evolve, this characterizes the static sensation of guilt.
On a deeper level — in a Torah-filled existence — there is no room for guilt, as the Torah’s desire is that we consciously choose the Torah’s standard of conduct as our own, and hence to not feel that Torah is something imposed upon us from the outside. Being Torah-committed should not feel as if it is an external way of life imposed upon us with no choice in the matter. But rather, we should be open to feel how the Torah resonates within us and complements our very own personality. In this way the Torah becomes essentially, our Torah.
There is a spiritual movement upwards and inwards from a place of “I must” to “I am able”, from “I have to” to ” I can”, and from “I feel forced to fulfill the mitzvos because of an external injunction thrust upon me” to “I am able to and would like to fulfill the mitzvos because it is who I am.”
The choice is a free choice that rises up from deep within: “I am able”. And yet the choice is so eminent, so powerful and so real that you feel like there is actually no choice in the matter.
At first, we were asked if we wanted to receive the Torah and we answered enthusiastically — yes! Then afterwards, as the Gemarah explains the verse (Shabbos, 88a), “They stood under the mountain,” Hashem overturned the mountain and held it above their heads like an inverted cask and said, “If you accept the Torah, good; if not, here shall be your burial.”
Why the imposed force? This seems to be inconsistent with previous teaching of how the Israelites chose to accept the Torah through our own free choice — willingly and with love.
The inner meaning of this passage is that, the acceptance of Torah is so deep and real to us, that it is as if there is no choice. There is no choice, because it is who we are.
Torah is not additional to life — it is chayeinu — it is ‘our life’. So we move from the lower level of “I must — I feel forced”, to the higher paradigm of “I am able — I feel free and open to choose”, to the highest paradigm of “I am”. At this level, “Torah is so real to me it is as if I have no choice”.
This highest level of choice does not derive from any external force imposed upon me, but rather it comes from within me. Torah is my essence, and to me, it is life itself.
Ultimately, the higher “I am” is the deepest realization that Torah is who we are, and it can then even be called “our” Torah. The Torah was transmitted to each one of us so that it can become ours. So much so, that when we contemplate and master Torah, it is referred to in our own name. Being in a state of deveikus or ‘cleaving’ and ‘exalted adhesion’ to Torah, the Torah becomes our own.
Whether we perceive the deeper/higher voice of Torah as coming from within or from without depends on how integrated we are with our soul, our deepest self. The reason some people may hear the Torah’s voice as unwelcoming, harsh, or alien is because they are not vertically and horizontally integrated. They are separated and alienated from their inner selves and thus sense these truths as coming from an Other — from Outside of themselves.
In life there are many natural laws we accept as absolute, without any type of resistance. Certain laws appear not as impositions, but rather as necessary activities to ensure our survival. Breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping are all ‘calls of nature’ that are simply accepted as reality — they are considered standard operational procedures. We do not rebel against them, and when we do, if it is not for a “cause” such as fasting, this indicates a condition of illness.
Torah aspires to flow within and through us with at least the same measure of organic ease — without the resistance of the ego. True, for some the initial relationship with Torah may seem a bit forced. A person may feel infringed upon, and occasionally may even feel a desire to rebel against that which seems to be imposed upon them. Overall fear may precede love. But gradually as a person becomes more integrally aligned, he realizes that ‘It is’ who ‘he is’. Progressively, Torah life becomes synonymous with life itself.
This level of self-integration and unity is perhaps a distant aspiration for most people. Unfortunately for many, guilt continues to be an active and pervasive, driving force of life. But there is no reason to despair. As with everything else in life, guilt is neither altogether good nor entirely evil. It is contingent upon how we interpret and utilize it. The fact is that often guilt can propel people toward good deeds.
The Torah is both pragmatic and spiritual — outwardly action-based and inwardly spiritually-oriented — an ethic of Spiritual Pragmatism or Pragmatic Spirituality. ‘Torah spirituality’ unfolds within a context of Halacha, ‘practical law’. Do good deeds, be disturbed, even angered by injustice, and then do more good deeds. Yet the process does not end with the actions; because when your hand opens in kindness eventually your heart and mind opens as well.
Whatever the source, a good deed is a good deed and it should be valued as such. To the poor man who receives charity, it makes no difference if you had ulterior motives or gave money out of a sense of guilt. Yet, our inner state follows our outer actions, and any positive projection outward does indeed have real potential to open us up to inner transformation.
When you perform physical acts of loving kindness, your heart and mind open, for as the Chinuch writes, “The heart follows actions”. Good actions help to create a good heart. Positive behavior opens us up to positive perspectives. Our good deeds expand and transform us internally.
The internal normally projects the external, the Panim normally reflects the P’nim, yet the movement can also be reversed: the exterior can also effect the interior, and good deeds can transform one’s mind and heart.
Ultimately both the intention and the action are highly valued and validated within a Torah worldview. It is of the utmost importance to simply do the action, and also the intention and internal echo of the action or mitzvah is of the utmost importance.
Ideally the healthiest course for spiritual growth is to fully release oneself from all negative emotions, never allowing any internal tension to foster, ferment or grow. Whenever there is tension or guilt, instead of feeling down or incapable of acting differently, try to take a positive stance. Do something good and productive and observe the negativity slowly evaporate.