failure and shame

הרב שבתי סבתו
ל שבט תשע
לרשימת השיעורים לחץ כאן
Shame and Sin The world of "shame" is one of great sensitivity and delicateness. Just like a "sensitive ear" can hear even very


Oct. 13, '09

כ"ו תשרי ה'תש"ע

Parashat Breishit

פר' בראשית

Rabbi Shabtai Sabato

הרב שבתי סבתו



הכישלון והבושה
Failure and Shame


Shame and Sin

The world of "shame" is one of great sensitivity and delicateness. Just like a "sensitive ear" can hear even very slight sounds, and cannot tolerate distortions of any sort, so too a pure and delicate soul reacts negatively to any "distortion" in one's behavior – via the feeling of "shame."


Every morning, in the blessing before Kriat Shma, we pray: "Let us not be shamed or humiliated, and let us not stumble in sin, forever." What this means is that "sin" and "shame" come together, and that if we do not sin, we will not be ashamed.


One may ask: Why do we link the feeling of "shame" to moral failure? Would it not be more appropriate for those who fail to behave well to sense disappointment, or frustration, or even anger? Why "shame" of all things?


Let us also try to understand the following. 
Our Sages, with profound understanding into the human soul, stated the following
(Tractate Derekh Eretz Zuta 8):

"Whoever has the characteristic of shame, will not quickly sin, as is written, ובעבור תהיה יראתו על פניכם לבלתי תחטאו, in order that the fear of G-d shall be upon your faces, so that you will not sin (Shmot 20,17)."


This verse tells us that "fear of G-d upon one's face" is equivalent to the sensation of shame. That is, there is a connection between sin and shame, and the latter serves to prevent sin. But it is not intuitively clear to us why or how this works. 


The key to understanding this enigma lies in our weekly Torah portion, Parashat Breishit. We read in this Parashah of the very first human moral failure: Adam's sin in eating from the Tree of Knowledge, against the explicit command of G-d.


Let us take note of the last verse before this story of Adam, Eve, the snake and the forbidden fruit. The verse states:

ויהיו שניהם ערומים, האדם ואשתו, ולא יתבוששו

The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.

(Breishit 2,25)


Why does the Torah take the trouble to tell us this fact? Does the Torah simply wanted to tell us some factual information about how the first human beings first lived? If so, then we should have immediately been told the end of the story:


ויעש ה' אלוקים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם

G-d made for the man and his wife cloaks of skin, and dressed them.

(Breishit 3,21)


Since this verse fills in the picture, why does the Torah wait until the end of the next chapter before writing it? The Torah first tells us that they were neither clothed nor ashamed, then tells us the entire story of the sin and the Tree of Knowledge, and only then tells us that G-d clothed them. What is the reason for this?


The Torah's message is this: The sensation of shame was born together with sin; sin leads to shame.


The proof of this is that when Adam and Eve hear G-d's voice searching for them in the Garden of Eden, they hide among the trees; they are suddenly quite ashamed of their behavior:

וישמעו את קול ה' אלוקים מתהלך בגן לרוח היום,
ויתחבאו האדם ואשתו מפני ה' אלוקים בתוך עץ הגן.

They heard G-d's voice moving about in the Garden…
and Adam and his wife hid themselves from G-d among the Garden's trees.



G-d calls out to Adam: אַיֶכָּה – "Where are you? What have you done? Do you think you can hide from Me?"

To this, Adam responds:

את קולך שמעתי בתוך הגן, ואירא כי עירום אנוכי ואחבא

I heard Your voice in the Garden,
and I feared, for I am naked, and I hid.
(verse 10)


Adam's words are unclear. Why should he feel fear simply because he was unclothed? The answer clearly is that what he felt at that moment was not fear – but rather "shame." This is borne out by our Sages' understanding of the verse we quoted above,

...בעבור תהיה יראתו על פניכם
in order that the fear of G-d shall be upon your faces (Shmot 20,17)


where they explain that the word "fear" means not fright, but shame. 


But the situation is still not clear. Adam was no longer unclothed; the Torah has told us as much two verses earlier:

ותיפקחנה עיני שניהם וידעו כי עירומים הם, ויתפרו עלי תאנה ויעשו להם חגורות
Their eyes were opened, and they realized that they were naked,
and they sewed fig-leaves and made for themselves loincloths.

(Breishit 3,7)


Therefore, they no longer had anything to be ashamed of – so why does Adam say in Verse 10 that he "feared" [meaning, was ashamed] because of his nakedness?


We will discover the answer by truly understanding the sensation of "shame."



Shame and Clothing

A person who willfully causes harm to another would be ashamed to later turn to him for help. Similarly, one would be ashamed to cause harm to one whom has helped him in the past. 


Another example: One who was greatly honored and respected, and is later found to be a fraud and not worthy of his reputation – will certainly feel ashamed.


Adam HaRishon, the first human, knows deep inside him that it is Hashem Who has given him everything he has. G-d has granted him life, honor, the Divine image, a soul, the ability to think, sustenance and control over others. Amidst this entire ocean of goodness, G-d asks of him only one thing: not to eat from a particular tree among all the trees in Eden, the Tree of Knowledge.


It is therefore obvious that Adam, not having succeeded in fulfilling G-d's one request, would feel shame and disgrace. How can he now face the Creator of the world? How can have shown such a brazen lack of appreciation for all that Hashem had done for him? It is this shame – the shame of sin, not the shame of being unclothed – that causes him to run away and hide as deep as he can among the trees, so that no one will see him.



The Process of Sobering Up from the Sin

After their initial lust for eating the forbidden fruit is satiated, we can track the painful process of "awakening" from the sin that Adam and Eve undergo – marked by various manifestations of shame and covering-up. First, they are ashamed of baring their own bodies, and they cover themselves with fig-leaf loincloths. Then, they are ashamed to stand before G-d even in such clothing, and they "cover" themselves with the camouflage of the trees of the garden. And finally, each of them "covers" himself with the claim that not he, but rather someone else, is to blame; Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake.


How does G-d respond to this? He tells them: "I will make you clothing, so that you shall not feel shame for your uncovered bodies, and you will not have to stand naked before Me in the Garden of Eden. Instead, I will banish you to a place outside the Garden, where you will be able to hear My voice without meeting Me."



Let us return to the verse we quoted above, which takes place immediately after Eve gave a bite of the forbidden fruit to Adam:

ותיפקחנה עיני שניהם וידעו כי עירומים הם
Their eyes were opened, and they realized that they were naked,
(Breishit 3,7)


We can now explain this verse as follows: Their eyes were opened not to the secrets of G-d, as the snake promised, but to the shame of their sin.


Let us elaborate:
When Adam and Eve finished eating the enticing forbidden fruit, they began to undergo a process of soberness and regret, together with great shame.
Their eyes were opened to the gravity of the situation – and not, as the snake had promised,
ונפקחו עיניכם והייתם כאלוקים, your eyes will be opened and you will be like G-d (Breishit 3,5). Their eyes were opened to a deep self-accounting of teshuvah, repentance.


This now explains why Adam was not punished with death as G-d had threatened him. The Torah states:

 כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות
For on the day that you eat from the tree, you shall surely die.
 (Breishit 2,17)


Why, then, was Adam not killed that very same day on which he sinned, as the Torah promised? The words of the Talmudic Sage Rabba bar Chanina may help us understand this. He states (Tractate Brachot, page 12b): "Whoever commits a sin, but is truly ashamed of it, all his sins are forgiven."


We see that shame, which is often a natural outgrowth of sin, leads to forgiveness.  It does not necessarily mean total forgiveness, though; what actually happened in this case was that Adam’s death sentence was exchanged for the punishment of Exile. Just as one who kills by mistake is exiled to one of the Cities of Refuge, so too, Adam was punished with exile and banished from the Garden of Eden. His death is to come only after 1,000 years have passed.



Shame as a Barrier

Let us return to the Rabbinic teaching we quoted above. The Sages said that one who has shame "does not quickly sin."


A sensitive person who recognizes the deep shame that comes from being ungrateful, will make sure, from the outset, not to allow himself to sin to G-d. He will say to himself: "How can I let myself repay good with bad? How can I disappoint Hashem, Who has given me the great privilege of living, thinking, and all that goes with it?"


Let us always take to heart the unforgettable words of Joseph to Potiphar's wife when she tried to seduce him:


הן אדוני לא ידע אתי מה בבית וכל יש לו נתן בידי...
ולא חשך ממני מאומה כי אם אותך באשר את אשתו

ואיך אעשה הרעה הגדולה הזאת וחטאתי לאלוקים?

For my master has left everything to my care…
He has not kept anything from me, except for you, his wife,

So how can I do this great evil, and sin to G-d?

(Breishit 39,8-9)


Yosef had sensitivity-in-advance to the shame that comes with sin, and it prevented him from falling prey to immoral enticements. This is the level that we all strive for.

Shabbat Shalom.