David Wolpe

The Self-Blame Game

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.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.