I do not go grocery shopping.
Once in a while, I’ll make an exception, but for the most part you will not see me pushing a shopping cart. Not for any misogynistic reasons, it’s entirely pragmatic.
For starters, I can’t find anything. The few times that I have taken our shopping list to Seven Mile or Market Maven, I literally end walking in circles for hours. You have to understand, I never ate vegetables as a child. My mother tried but my diet consisted of macaroni, and hot dogs. The only vegetables I ate were french fries because yes, potatoes are vegetables. So when my wife sends me to buy… squash, I don’t know what she’s talking about. (And of course, I would never ask anyone for help even if my life depended on it.)
Even when I know what things look like – I know what Nestle Quick chocolate powder is (chocolate is also a vegetable, by the way. It’s a bean.) but they hide it! It’s not on those big signs. It’s not a condiment, it’s not a spice. It’s like a treasure hunt I didn’t sign up for.
But aside from all the wasted time, the real reason is that I hate bumping into congregants. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing you, I do. It’s more about how you react to seeing me outside of shul. First of all, when people see me, they always say, Good Shabbos. It’s Monday!! That’s fine. But 9 out of 10 conversations go something like this.
“Hi Mr. Congregant, how are you?”
“Oh. Rabbi Motzen. I’m great. Uh, you know, last week, my daughter really wasn’t feeling well so we stayed home from shul.”
“The week before, we had a Bar Mitzvah at a different shul. And the week before that, uh, the weather. Yeah, the weather was really bad.”
It’s always different version of the same conversation. I asked you how you’re doing, and what you heard was me asking you where have you been? What I realized is that I am, and I guess it’s a rabbi thing, a guilt generator. You see me and you feel guilty. Am I correct?
Who here would be totally cool seeing me at Seven Mile?
Okay, let’s play a little game. We’ll call it, Hanging out with the Rabbi.
Who here would be comfortable with me coming home with you today for lunch?
What are we eating, huh? All glatt Kosher, I hope. Are you ready for an in-depth parsha quiz? Do you know how many sockets there were in the Mishkan? I hope you like singing, we’re going to sing every song in the bencher. Still okay with me coming over? Show of hands. Great.
Round two – Can I stay over for the rest of the day?
You do what on Shabbos afternoon? Those are Shabbos clothes? Hmm. What time is Shalosh Seudos? Show of hands. Okay, we still have a few masochists.
Round three, can I stick around for Saturday night?
Where are we going? Oh, we’re watching Netflix. Ooh, I don’t think we can watch that show. Oh no, definitely not that. What?! No! How is that even legal?!
We’re going to end up watching Cocomelon and we’re going to fast-forward whenever Mommy sings. Are you still having me over?! Who’s in? Fine! Who is taking me along on vacation… to Vegas?
Anyone still standing? Great! You win a free trip to Las Vegas with Rabbi… Heineman! Have fun.
So aside from the two people here who are pretending that they’d always love to hang out with me, I think we all acknowledge that it’s nice to have a little bit of space. Walking around all day with a rabbi – even me, can be a little much.
And with that I think we can understand an incredible idea suggested by Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner, otherwise known as the Izhbitzer, one of the most underappreciated and profound Jewish thinkers of the 19th century. Our Parsha begins with G-d instructing the Jewish People to build a Mishkan, a structure in which G-d will rest His divine Presence. But if you read the text carefully, it does not say that G-d will rest His presence in the Mishkan, it says, v’shochanti b’socham, and I will rest My presence in them – in the Jewish People. Some commentators see this as an allusion to the following idea: Prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d was not going to rest His divine Presence in a structure. There was not going to be a Mishkan, a physical edifice. Rather, His presence would have been felt, like really tangibly felt, among each and every person. V’shochanti b’socham, and I will rest among YOU.
Now if it’s difficult to hang out with a rabbi for 24 hours, imagine – and I apologize for this incredibly pompous analogy – imagine hanging out with G-d all the time. It’s a little intense, isn’t it? Imagine the level of guilt you’d be walking around with at any given moment.
So what did the Jewish People do in response? They created a little bit of distance. They said, I don’t want to deal with the CEO of the company, that’s intimidating. I’m going to interact with the VP or the secretary instead.
That, my friends, is the sin of the Golden Calf. According to many commentators, they were not rejecting G-d, they were looking for a little bit of distance. They could not deal with the guilt of living with G-d and so they created an intermediary to create some space, something that would allow them to breathe.
The Izhbiter goes on to explain that this is an echo of the very first sin; the sin of Adam and Chava in the Garden. You know how at the end of the story they’re hiding behind some bushes. That IS the story. The reason they sinned was to hide from G-d, to create distance between them. Living with G-d is way too difficult. There’s too much guilt. It’s suffocating. So, they try to hide from G-d. Sinning is their way of creating a gap between them and their Creator.
Now I think if Adam and Chava would have checked themselves in with a therapist and shared their dilemma. “You know, doc, I am feeling overwhelmed by G-d. I feel guilty every time I do anything. It’s never enough. I feel sio judged. I can’t function this way. I’m constantly second-guessing myself. I can’t do what I want to do. He’s overbearing.” I imagine the therapist would encourage Adam and Chava to get themselves kicked out of the Garden to “create healthy boundaries.” Right?
If the Jewish People would collectively share their woes with a therapist, “G-d took us out of Egypt and now expects to hang out all the time. And, He has so many unreasonable expectations! 613 of them!” The therapist would beg the Jewish People to build a Golden Calf to counter all that guilt, to create an intermediary so they don’t have to interact with an overbearing G-d. Because guilt is bad. Isn’t it? Google ‘Guilt’ and you will find articles titled, How to Stop Feeling Guilty, Dealing with Guilt, Diagnosing the Guilt Complex…
But guilt is not bad. There is no actual word for guilt in Hebrew. The closest we have is Busha, shame. The word BOSH means to come late, or to fall short of an expectation. Vayar ha’am ki boshesh Moshe. When we feel guilt, that means our internal moral compass is reminding us that we’re falling short of what is expected of us. That’s an incredibly valuable feeling. It’s a gift.
But there is a healthy guilt and an unhealthy guilt. The Jewish People had an unhealthy guilt – and too often, so do we. We are afraid of the negative consequences of our actions. We imagine G-d standing there watching us, waiting for us to slip up, and when do BOOM, He’s going to get us.
How does G-d respond to the sin of the Golden Calf? He teaches Moshe the thirteen attributes – “Hashem, Hashem, Keil Rachum v’chanun. G-d who is compassionate and graceful etc.” In the Medrashic reading of that passage, G-d tells Moshe that when the Jewish People sin they should recite those words. Now that’s puzzling. Does G-d need an ego rub? Sing my praises and I’ll forgive you?! Of course not.
Perhaps, what we are doing when we say those words, what G-d tried to communicate to the Jewish People who were wracked with guilt, is that Hashem is kind, He is loving, He created us to give to us. Yes, we have rules, mitzvos and aveiros, but the foundation of those rules are not coming from an overbearing, punitive deity. They are coming from a loving father.
The difference between unhealthy guilt and healthy guilt is its foundation. If it’s founded on fear, if it’s founded on the mistaken notion of a punitive G-d, it’s toxic. But if it’s founded on love, on a recognition that G-d is not out to get us, He’s out to give to us, that He is not waiting for us to sin, He’s waiting for us to succeed, that the Mitzvos and Aveiros are not meant to stifle us, they are meant to help us actualize our potential, that guilt is incredibly powerful and good. That’s why we say the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem, to remind us how loving He is. And then and only then can we begin to reengage with Hashem.
A world without guilt is a world without conscience. It’s a world in which I do what I want. It’s a world in which I try to silence that nagging voice reminding me of the people I’m hurting and the price I’m going to pay. That’s a world of extreme individualism and anarchy.
Guilt is good. We should feel uncomfortable knowing that G-d is watching us. We should feel uncomfortable when we fall short in what we are meant to do. But it’s critical to know why G-d wants us to keep His rules. It’s critical to allow our guilt to flow from a place of love.
I’m not coming to your house for lunch, I’m not coming to your house to watch a movie. But when we mess up, which we all do, and we start to feel some guilt, let it in. It’s a G-dly voice that G-d imbedded into our psyche. It’s a gift from a G-d who loves us, who wants to make sure we live up to the incredibly high expectation He has for each and every one of us.