Shame is Nothing to Be Ashamed About

Rosh HaShana 5779 / 2018[1]
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

Divine perfection, in order for it to be infinite, must include the possibility of perfecting…a never-ending process by which perfection becomes even more perfect (without implying that its previous state was ever less than perfect). It’s a paradox and we’ll leave it at that.[2]

The mechanism HaShem devised to accomplish this perfecting is called teshuva, a term that means literally, return. The Talmud reports that HaShem created teshuva even before he created human beings, which implies that the whole point of human beings is to participate in this holy mission of return.[3] And yet you can’t return to something unless you have first gone away from it.  But then what is really gained when a person just comes back to their starting point?  How does that accomplish perfecting?

That brings us to a mysterious formula built into the structure of our universe called, “yeridah l’tsorekh aliyah—descent for the sake of rising (eventually and inevitably) to an even higher place in the end.”[4] Teshuva does precisely that. Like a spring compressed and released, its descent creates a rebound that propels the returnee beyond his/her starting point and in this way perfecting occurs.[5]

It sounds almost sterile, but that’s because we must unpack the term descent which is actually a euphemism for all the grievous ordeals in life: sin, failure, tragedy, catastrophe, wrongdoing, felony, etc. It is shocking to realize that the perfecting which is the purpose of creation, requires the very adversities that (seem to) oppose it—both natural disasters that come from without and moral failings perpetrated from within.

Focusing in particular on the latter, the impurities of soul that produce our descents are ancient indeed, no blame. We all have an allotment of what kabbala calls zuhama (pollution) inherited from primordial times—from the Era of Shattered Vessels to be exact.[6]  There were seven universes created and destroyed before our own, or eighth, whose origin is told in the Book of Genesis. This pre-historic cataclysm is a saga of narcissism, shame and woe. When a world self-destructs, it is not innocent; it has earned its fate. Kabbala reports that the fatal flaw of these seven shattered words was psychotic narcissism. Each rallied to the slogan of: “I want to be king.  I want to rule the world.”[7] Their hubris had basis. These kingdoms were godlike in their eminence, for they embodied the vision of perfection that instigated the creative effort altogether.  Yet, they overinflated, lost their humility, shattered and died.  One after another they suffered the humiliating reminder of their failure and mortality.

We (citizens of the Eighth Kingdom) are built from the shards of those shattered worlds, from dazzling lights tainted by narcissism and shame. HaShem takes a pile of those fragments and sends them down into each of our bodies and they provide the raw material for our life’s work.  Their incandescent sparks tug us toward good while their grunge propels our teshuva (including its requisite descents).

Perfecting is an energy intensive process. No one invests the effort without compelling incentives.  Hashem supplies a carrot in front and a fire behind to keep us moving. Carrots are the narcissistic gratifications that accompany success while fire is the shame that nips at our heels threatening to pounce if we stop moving. 

In this sense our inherited impurities of soul—our narcissistic delusions and paralyzing shame—are actually, a kind of natural resource—a fossil fuel—that drives our teshuva.  Oil looks like filthy crud, but in Texas they call it black gold, for oil supplies the energy that fuels our (individual and collective) evolving. Oil is wealth (at least until we learn to harness solar). Every galaxy has a black hole at its core, and every soul has an oil well on its property.[8]

Hashem please help us turn darkness into light, bitter into sweet.  Help us to use all the resources of our lives for good so that we return home enriched, transformed, enlightened, humbled, perfected and fully ourselves. There is no greater bliss than doing what we are designed to do.


It is an honor to dedicate this Torah Wisdom to the memory of our beloved grandfather,
Leo Weil, Eliezer ben Shaya z”l.
This is the first Rosh Hashanah that he is not with us. But his integrity, leadership, generosity and unwavering values as a mensch inspire us everyday. Because of his dedication to love and support the Jewish people, his two granddaughters now live in Israel. May his shining example keep us inspired in maasim tovim and may he reap lots of nachas from the deeds of all of his family. ~~~Sarah and Leia Weil and Family


[1] TsHTs 162 (missing ot)
[1] TsHTs 162 (missing ot)
[2] Schneider, Sarah Yehudit, Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine, (Chapt 6, “Transformation is Only Possible After A Fall—A Series of Excerpts from Orot HaKodesh by R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook,”) 171-191.
[3] TB Pesachim 54a; Nedarim 39b; BR 1:4; Zohar 1:134b-35a; 3: 69b-70a
[4] TB, Makkot 7b; Baal Shem Tov on the Torah, Yitro #26 (and many other places), R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Rashaz), Likutei Torah (LT), 3:87c, 4:2a.
[5] TB Shabbat 104a.
[6] R. Shlomo Elyahiv, HaDrush Olam HaTohu, ספר הדע”ה ח”א מאמר הכללי אותיות א’-ד’, ספר שערי הלשם חלק א – סימן טו – פרק א – עולמות שעלו במחשבה והתיקון. And throughout his writings.
[7] R. Yitzchak Chaver, Afikei Mayim, Sefer Biur Agadot, Sota 5a, San7a.
[8] Zohar 3:69b-70a: R. Abba said: ‘There is a hidden place above, which is “the depth of the well”, whence issue streams and sources in all directions. This profound depth is called Teshuva, and he who desires to return and to be purified of his sin should call upon God from this depth.’

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