Uncovering Our Shame – Yom Kippur 5780

This week’s One Minute Torah was shared during Yom Kippur traditional services. I want to share with you an experience from my life.  The particulars […]

This week’s One Minute Torah was shared during Yom Kippur traditional services.

I want to share with you an experience from my life.  The particulars of this experience are unique to me, but I think the emotions associated with it may be familiar to many of you.

come  from an Orthodox background, and for most of my life I did not drive on Shabbat. About three years ago, I made the decision to use our electric car to drive to Shabbat services.  A lot went into that decision, but what I want to share with you is my feelings when I first began driving through my neighborhood, where I have ties to the Orthodox community. I was so afraid I would see someone I knew from the community. It even happened once, that I saw some people walking in Shabbat dress and kippot, and turned off that block so I wouldn’t pass them.

I realized that what I was most worried about was the initial moment when they would see me behind the wheel.  I even considered sending out a mass email or blog post explaining my decision, just because I wanted people to learn that I had changed my practice without my having to see their faces. Once it was out in the open that this is what I’m doing now, I felt that I would not be so ashamed to be seen.

Driving a car is a very public thing. If I could have gotten tinted glass, maybe I would have.  But each of us have aspects of ourselves that we are ambivalent about, or even ashamed of, that we are more able to hide. Failed ambitions. Feelings of inadequacy in our core relationships – as a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend. 

Over the past few months, I’ve been very influenced by the writings of Brene Brown, a psychologist who specializes in shame and vulnerability.  I highly recommend her most recent book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Brown observes that most people have the urge to hide our shame.  Often, we push it down so deep, we aren’t even aware of it ourselves. But the shame that we hide is the most harmful.  In the dark it grows, influencing our thoughts and our actions.

She says the only way to heal shame it to face it.  In her words: “grab the hand of a trusted companion, and cross the swamp.”  Rabbi Ezray spoke last night about being brave, and that’s exactly the language Brene Brown uses to talk about admitting our shame.

But she also says that it is very hard to face our shame without someone to help us.  And that’s where I question her analysis. Because, as Brown herself says, it can’t just be anyone. We need someone who can look at our shame without flinching. Such a person is hard to find. Some of us are  blessed with people like that in our lives, but many of us are not.  

The second couplet of the V’chol Ma’aminim prayer suggests that there may be another way to work through our shame:

הבוחן ובודק גנזי נסתרות

God examines and inspects the stores that are hidden inside

וכל מאמינים שהוא בוחן כליות

And all trust that God examines our kishkes, our innards.

These lines suggest that we have nothing to hide.  Even our ugliest parts are already seen, and known.  Couple that idea with the language describing God as אב הרחמן,  a compassionate parent and a forgiving God. Even knowing the worst parts of us, God still loves us. We can speak our worst shame out loud, to ourselves, and if we feel that God is listening, we know that we are forgiven and loved.