Willard Gaylin, the American psychologist, has written a book entitled Feelings, in which he analyzes some of our emotions. When he writes about "guilt feelings," he incisively distinguishes between guilt and two feelings that are quite close: "fear of guilt" and "shame." Guilt feelings deal with a person's recognition of his sins, without any "allowances" or "extenuating circumstances." The "fear of guilt" is the fear that stems from the fact that a person has committed an offense for which, within the social context in which he lives, he may be punished. The feeling of shame is a social emotion that undermines a person's position, without any connection to punishment. How many times have we encountered the expression, "I got caught red-handed?" Let us take speeding as an example. The driver who is "caught" by the police (usually) doesn't feel guilty, but rather feels either fear of the police or shame before society; sometimes he or she feels both. In order to gauge our feelings, we should examine ourselves as the patrol car travels along the highway, when we are sure that we have been caught red-handed. That's when we feel fear. After the patrol car passes, we feel relief. We wait until the patrol car is far away and then merrily we step on the gas. We've lost the fear, and we felt neither shame nor guilt. But if something terrible happens as a result of our actions, we might feel guilt and then no fine will help - we will seek forgiveness. The first source I have found that deals with shame and a person's response is in the story of Nahum Ish Gamzu: It was said of Nahum Ish Gamzu that he was blinded in both his eyes. His two hands were cut off. His two legs were amputated and his whole body was covered with boils and he was lying in a dilapidated house on a bed, the feet of which were standing in bowls of water in order to prevent the ants from crawling on to him…. His students said to him, "Rabbi, you are [clearly] a thoroughly righteous person [so] why has [all this suffering] happened to you?" He said to them, "I brought it on myself, for one time I was walking on the way to the house of my father-in-law and I had with me three asses, one laden with food, one with drink and one with all kinds of dainties. One poor man came and stood in my way and said to me, "Rabbi, sustain me [with something to eat]." I said to him, "Wait until I unload [something] from the ass. And I did not succeed to unload [something] from the ass before he died [from hunger]. I went and fell upon his face and I said, 'My eyes, which did not have pity upon your eyes, may they become blind. My hands, which did not have pity upon your hands, may they be cut off. My legs, which did not have pity on your legs, may they be amputated.' And my conscience was not quiet until I said, 'May my whole body be covered with boils'" They [his students] said to him, "Alas for us that we should see you like this." He said to them, "Alas for me if you did not see me like this!" (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 21a) It is important to pay attention to the situation of Nahum Ish Gamzu. He is not embarrassed. Indeed, he says to his students, "Alas for me if you did not see me like this." He says: To me, it is crucial that you see my punishment and my suffering, so that I may feel that I have corrected something. Nahum Ish Gamzu brings his attempts to deal with his feelings of shame out into the open. Who among us is not familiar with this situation: We walk out of the store, our shopping cart filled with a thousand shekel worth of goods, and a homeless beggar, repulsive and foul-smelling, stands at the door. And as he begs, you mumble something about how you can't stop right now because of the cart, or because of a child, or because of the long line, or because of the crowd, or because of whatever and that you'll be right back. Usually, at that point, we try to disconnect and forget what we have seen. We experience a moment of guilt, but it's quickly replaced with our rationalizations and our ideologies. When the beggar knocks on our window at an intersection, we pray for a green light to save us from the embarrassing situation. Nahum Ish Gamzu lived this way, until he was forced to see the death of the beggar. The guilt is a form of our disappointment in ourselves, because we haven't reached the level we had hoped to reach. This is a very pure feeling, very intimate and very personal. No one can remove my sense of guilt except me. On Yom Kippur, when we stand up, beat our breast and say, "We have sinned," there is a moment of grace in the world, from which a process of redemption and purification can begin. It is up to each of us. The writer is rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue.

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