Some people never tire of beating themselves up. It is a distressing sight — their self-blame is immediate, overwhelming and destructive. Others, by contrast, never beat themselves up. Their sense of self-worth is invulnerable, and no matter how badly they may misstep or even hurt others, it does not tarnish the pristine shine of their self-regard.
Obviously, neither extreme is conducive to a healthy, balanced life. So I was struck (pun sort of intended) by the passage in the Amidah where we twice hit our chests in remorse. Now this makes sense, I thought — we are advised that a certain self-blame is healthy and important for moral awareness. But you only strike your chest twice, because constantly beating your chest is not good.
Judaism cultivates a moral sense, and part of that moral sense is high expectations for our own behavior. But it also emphasizes human fallibility and the necessity of forgiveness, including self-forgiveness. To think oneself unworthy is as mistaken as to think oneself infallible. Two times we strike our chest; no strikes, or three strikes, and you’re out.