Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Carriers of guilt

It would indeed be troubling if the message here were that it is necessary to incur or bear guilt in order to be “good”.

That is not the rationale for recognition and expiation of guilt.

From an ontological perspective and looking beyond the legislative or regulatory aspect of Leviticus, I see a concern that recurs again and again in the Torah: everything, whether the wind in the trees, joy in procreation, victory over one’s foes, or even any form of wrongdoing – regarded essentially as that which is harmful to the community – everything must serve to bring us closer to the divine presence.

We are carriers of guilt just as we are carriers of ladders.

Guilt here becomes another vehicle, yet another way of drawing near to God or, perhaps the same thing in other words, forming part of the higher, collective self of the community.

It’s interesting to compare the Jewish sense of guilt with the Catholic sense of sin. For Catholics, all people are considered to be in a state of sin since the Fall but can individually be redeemed through JC. All Jews carry the burden of an imperfect world and strive together to heal it. Everything is grist to that mill.

I am put in mind of the impossible transcendence at the heart of Kafka’s writings and the last words of The Trial, when Joseph K. is stabbed to death like a dog: “It was”, we are told, “as if the shame of it must outlive him”.

The shame – “die Scham” – the inward shame, the mirror of guilt for a nameless crime, a crime that cannot be named, that shame must continue outside the confines of his own life, so long as it cannot be expiated.

In parsha Vayikra, the need for atonement is then as important a part of the message as the need to observe rules. Both are means of binding the community together. He who does not realize his guilt as defined is cut of from the community as defined…

It surely follows that if we do not recognize or for some reason reject the rules set out in Leviticus, the community has to be redefined. The question is how? By the sharing of questions?



One response to “Carriers of guilt

  1. IrvZuckerman March 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    An interesting contrast between faiths and the guilt concept. The baptismal service responds to the belief that the infant is the product of sin and cannot become part of the family iin faith until he/she has renounced Satan and all his works. A jewish baby naming, on the other hand, reflects nothing but the joy of arrival, and even waits until it looks like the infant will live before the ceremony is held. One thing they have in common is that neither infant has any idea of what is going on.

    So where does the guilt start, and what is its purpose? It starts with our behavior toward each other. Without guilt, what force is there to govern human behavior? But here is where the roles are reversed. The Catholic kid who had to through a heavy ritual of driving out the Devil now gets rid of guilt by going to confession, doing a pennance and Bob’s his uncle. The Jewish kid has to make it right by appealing for pardon by those against whom he has transgressed. Which is easier?

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