Thursday, August 11th 2022   |

Off the Pulpit: How To Feel Bad About Yourself

By RABBI DAVID WOLPE

Is believing the best about yourself always a virtue?

The greatest religious figures are often those most convinced of their inadequacies. A man once approached A.J. Heschel and said “I love my family, I pay my taxes, I keep a good job. What do I need to repent for? I am a pretty good person.” Heschel replied, “Good for you, but the same is not true of me. I am always thinking the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing. I need God, and I need to repent.”

Somehow, I believe that the goodness of Heschel outshone that of the more self-satisfied gentleman.

What is it to have a sense of sin? Mordecai Kaplan gave an excellent account: “The best we can do,” he wrote, “is generally much better than we actually do. To be troubled by that fact is to have a sense of sin.” We could use more of that sense; paradoxically, sometimes believing one is not so good makes us better.

Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

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