The FEET of The Brain
I love going for long walks in the outdoors and exploring new places and paths. But I've noticed that no matter how far I walk or the new scenery I encounter, sometimes I take old thoughts with me. The inner critic is persistent, and instead of it being a nature walk, it becomes the walk of shame and self-blame.
My feet are free to wander into the unknown, but my own memories and thoughts are still chained to yesterday. There's nothing wrong with reminiscing, but there is something wrong when we continually beat ourselves up over yesterday's misdeeds and can't find it in our hearts to forgive ourselves. Somehow, we feel that if we keep ourselves in a state of perpetual self-admonishment and self-flagellation, it's a way of redeeming ourselves. In truth, it does the opposite. Think of yourself as a pickle marinating in sour brine. It serves only to preserve the pickle in a state of sourness.
On one such walk, while listening to a Torah shiur on YouTube as I often do, I was once again burdened by my mistakes. I asked God when He would forgive me because the mess my life was in seemed to indicate that He had not. At that moment, in the recorded class, the rabbi said words that stunned me and stopped me in my tracks. I don't remember the context, but he said, "Hashem doesn't want you to repeat your apologies every day. If you're sincere in your sorry, in word and deed, He will forgive you. Now stop kvetching and learn to forgive yourself." Wow, for the first time in a long time, my feet were now stuck, but my brain had a new path to explore.
Friends, if we continually beat ourselves up over yesterday, what chance does today or tomorrow have? The Talmud claims that someone who repeats a confession on a past misdeed is likened to "…a dog who returns to his own vomit, so is a fool who persists in his folly" (Proverbs 26:11).
For the purposes of this article, let's define self-forgiveness as breaking away from the past, extracting ourselves healthily, and moving forward with optimism, positivity, and Godly light. Be certain, it is Satan himself who wants to keep us in a state of unrelenting regret, keeping us bitter, insecure, and fearful. Whatever a coach does to cheer on his team to victory, Satan does the opposite. He poisons us with a defeatist mentality to keep us in a state of mourning over who we are, what we have done, and where we've come from. He's the confidence destroyer who makes a powerful and unforgiving case against us, sprinkled with manipulative anecdotes. He is none other than the Angel of Death who has come to kill our potential because he knows that the moment we become self-forgiving, we are freed from his fatal clutches and back in God's Hands, where all things are possible.
I cannot help but think of King David as the best example. He was a mere shepherd boy who couldn't tolerate the Israelites cowering before the Philistines. Even though he was not tall or trained as a warrior, he decided that he would be the one to fight Goliath. A mere lad with a slingshot stepped forward while all the King's men trembled before their fatal foe. When David was given King Saul's armor to take on Goliath, miraculously, although he was of smaller stature than King Saul, the armor fit him perfectly. With untempered devotion and faith in God, he did not put limitations on his potential, and reality catered to his will. Nonetheless, King David shed the royal armor because he felt more comfortable in his own skin. It is not the armor, nor the crown, nor your stature that defines you. It is your will and the spirit of God that will animate the steps you take in life and the blessings that accompany them.
So many of us are burdened by past debts and would be only too happy to hear the creditors say they forgive those debts. The same concept applies here: Don't let the past, who you think you are, or what you've done weigh you down. Forgive your debts and move on. Feed your body and soul with new information. Even on a physical level, we know that our body replaces around 330 billion cells per day, and scientists say that within 80 days, we are, for the most part, a completely new person. Act like one!
In this week's Torah reading of Pinchas, we are briefly reminded of Korach's fate. The earth opened up and swallowed him and his cohorts for rebelling against Moses' leadership. But we are also reminded that "Korach's sons did not die." Why? Because they separated themselves from their father's evil ways and repented. We can cast off the "sins" of our "fathers" by being children of Hashem and keeping His Torah. Indeed, we are the fathers of our own sins, but we can cast off our old selves and become fathers of good deeds, commandments, and a new life.
In the Talmud, people have an obligation not to remind others of their past misdeeds, assuming they may have atoned and grown spiritually from their mistakes. So, if others are not allowed to remind you, stop reminding yourself. Stop remembering your past, and start remembering your future.
Dedicated to the memory of my best friend Pinchas (Phil) who never let me cower in retreat but always told me, “You can do it,” no matter what the challenge was. Those words were among the greatest gifts I ever got. May his neshamah have an Aliyah.