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Nissan Goal: Good Guilt   

No one ever told me you could do teshuvah just like that



Adar in Review: Use Humor

Shortly after I started this column, I began a WhatsApp group to build a community of women working on menuchas hanefesh together. We share ideas and chizuk — and occasional funny messages “just because.”

One thing I noticed this month is how contagious laughter is. I see something funny, I share it with the group, they pass it on... each laugh or smile may last an instant, but those moments of positivity add up to make a brighter day.

Especially now, when so much distressing news is being circulated, we need something to balance the scales and make us smile. We all have the ability to share a bit of “silly simchah” through a joke here and there — and that can make all the difference.

Nissan Goal: Good Guilt

Guilt is great. And it’s very Jewish. How else would Jewish moms get their kids to wash the dishes or call them on Erev Shabbos?

In all seriousness, the concept of guilt, or regret, is essential to the teshuvah process. The sensation of guilt is a gift from Hashem, an internal barometer of good and bad. Orchos Tzaddikim explains when someone errs and reviews his actions, charatah, regret, is the wish that he hadn’t slipped. Without regret, a person’s teshuvah will not be accepted; with it, his sin disappears.

Were it not for the painful twinge of regret, we’d continue making the same mistakes again and again. Knowing that on some level, we can blame only ourselves for our mistakes, is the first step toward improvement. Regret leads to change.

Here’s the problem: I can mentally review a mistake to the point of exhaustion. I replay the episode endlessly, and that seriously infringes upon my menuchas hanefesh. Then guilt isn’t so great.

In a halachah shiur by Rabbi Yehuda Baum, he told of a housewife who called him with a sh’eilah; she realized she ate something assur. We gasped in horror.

“So then what does she do?” I asked.

“Teshuvah,” he replied.

“How do you do that?”

“You say: ‘I feel bad that I ate nonkosher and I won’t do it again.’ ”

And that was it.

No one ever told me you could do teshuvah just like that.

Unfortunately, I don’t usually go through my day with this clarity. I do something wrong, I agonize, I apologize, and then I agonize some more. Why?

There are possible reasons. Here are a few:

  • It’s hard to let go of what could have been — or the reality that never was. Like the time I was meant to host a seminary challah bake and I simply forgot. I could not accept that I missed this opportunity, which I’d been looking forward to for weeks.
  • I use guilt to repeatedly punish myself; I “pay my dues” mentally, so I don’t need to work practically. If I keep telling myself: “How could you say that to her, Mindel?” then I’ve “served my time” and don’t have to face the fact that I need to improve.
  • I want to get the reassurance that I’m fully forgiven — often because I haven’t forgiven myself. I tell my babysitter “I’m sorry I was late last week” for the fifth time so I can once again hear her say “It’s okay,” and make sure she doesn’t hate me (which she probably will if I mention it one more time), and stop hating myself for having inconvenienced her.

In any of the above scenarios, I can usually get rid of the guilt by making a real change. Change turns a regretful experience into a meaningful one, it turns self-hate into self-respect, and it pulls me out of the bottomless pit of guilt.

There’s still another possibility: maybe there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Defining if something really was “my fault” is a sore point for people who thrive at taking initiative and responsibility. It’s great we want to be proactive, but it’s detrimental if we think we’re in control of everything. Getting stuck at a red light and coming home a little later to my kids is not in my control! So why am I wasting energy feeling sorry about it?

Chovos Halevavos (Shaar Bitachon, chapter 4) details the areas in which we should be doing hishtadlus (human effort) and those in which we need to entirely rely on Hashem. For example, I can plan a nice day at the park for my kids, but if it rains, I can’t start feeling guilty that they didn’t get to go. That would mean I think I control the weather, but I’m pretty sure that’s Hashem’s department. Bottom line: if it’s not a place where I can put in hishtadlus, then it’s out of my control, and it’s not something I should feel guilty about.

This month is one when many women are working hard to prepare for a beautiful Yom Tov. But the preparations can cause stress — and guilt. The lack of menuchas hanfesh we experience as a result takes a toll on ourselves and detracts from the beauty of the Yom Tov, and the ways in which we can enjoy our families. Making the distinction between what we can and can’t control is one way to create the environment we’re striving for.

This month I will:

Ask myself if my guilt is warranted, and if it’s helpful or hurtful

Say I’m sorry once, and mean it

Make a change

Avoid burdening others with my guilt by articulating my feelings in another way (express it to Hashem, to an outsider, in a journal, etc.). For example: “I really wish we could have been able to…” “I’m so embarrassed that…” “I feel like this is a real flaw of mine,” etc.


מי שחטא ומתחרט, כאילו לא חטא (Orchos Tzaddikim)

Regret leads to change

Do not let your past define your future, because you have the power of the present

I forgive myself

Skip the Sorry

Why is it so hard to give an authentic apology? Often we throw around the words “I’m sorry” in a meaningless way. We “apologize” for things when it makes no sense. When someone else is annoyed (and we didn’t cause the annoyance), saying “I’m sorry” actually turns the focus onto us and our painful feelings, instead of acknowledging theirs.

Even though colloquially, it’s acceptable to speak this way (and people know you’re not feeling personally responsible for the fact that they spilled their coffee), it would be helpful to notice — and alter — our responses to situations where we really shouldn’t feel “sorry.” That way, when we do say it, we can really mean it.


When your friend shares that she had a bad day, instead of “I’m sorry to hear that,” try: “That’s really hard.”

When your toddler bangs into someone in the park, instead of “I’m so sorry!” try: “Are you okay?”

When you show up late and it was beyond your control, instead of “Sorry I’m late,” try: “Thanks for waiting for me”

When the kids ask you to buy them a treat, instead of “I’m sorry, we can’t get that now,” try: “Now isn’t the time. We’ll get something special for Shabbos.”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 734)

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