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Moral Compromises
Rebbetzin Feige

Moral Compromises

There is hope, even after making the biggest mistake of one's life.


A reader writes:

I am a 17-year-old girl, and I think I just made the biggest mistake of my life.

For the last year, I have been trying to become more observant and live a more moral life. But I failed and compromised myself, and now I feel terrible. I can't stand to look at myself in a mirror, and I imagine that God can't stand to look at me either. Now that I've done this, I feel that I will be unable to continue to pursue my religious goals, for I cannot take back what I have done, no matter how much I regret it.

Can anything be done? Will God forgive me? Does He see me as a failure too?

Rebbetzin Faige responds:

It is related that the two famous brothers, Reb Elimelech of Lizensk and Reb Zisha, had an enlightening discourse. Reb Elimelech asked his brother how it had come to pass that Adam ate of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Tradition informs that all souls of the future were present in the soul of Adam. "If so," Reb Elimelch queried, "how was it that you, Zisha, the holy person that you are, consented to that deed?"

The pious Reb Zisha responded, "I remember exactly where I resided in the person of Adam and I clearly recall that fateful moment. To me, the serpent's enticement was much like the taunt of someone holding a closed fist and saying 'You don't know what I have got in my hand, but it is something unbelievably thrilling and spectacular. Want to have it?' I knew," Reb Zisha concluded, "that indeed the fist would open and reveal nothing but pain and suffering. But as part of Adam, had I insisted on taking the high moral ground, mankind throughout history would have constantly be tortured by the unsettling thought that they had missed some great and tantalizing opportunity. So despite the formidable consequences, I judged it would be better to know beyond any shadow of a doubt that defiance of God's word can only lead to sorrow and tragedy."

Although we were banished from the Garden of Eden and lost our pristine state of being, God did not give up on us.

This was a historic, macrocosmic experience but at some point in all of our lives, each person in their own way chooses to once again test this irrefutable truth. We opt for illusion, fleeting promises of power, pleasure, or blandishments of one kind or another. Ultimately, to our terrible chagrin, we find that the rewards are hollow and bankrupt. We are invariably left with an awful sense of failure and indeed, one of deserving to be banished from paradise, to be distanced from the presence of the Almighty. We are convinced that nothing but rejection must be our fate.

The events following man's first grievous error are most significant and instructive. Although we were banished from the Garden of Eden and lost our pristine state of being, God did not give up on us. Our benevolent Heavenly Parent responded by charting a course through which we could reclaim paradise. He gave us a path by which we could reinstate our integrity. It is one that entails dealing with the consequences, assuming responsibility, and putting forth the requisite hard work.

The greatest pitfall to avoid is self-denigration. Kind David, after his bout with wrongdoing exclaimed, "My transgression is before me and confronts me constantly (Psalms 51,5)." He used his experience to heighten his consciousness and awareness. It helped him identify his vulnerability and hence avert the moral minefields along the journey to recovery and wholeness.

"Mommy, I want to do what I like to do and not what you want me to do!"

My 3-year-old grandson, Yankele, when scolded by his mother for not following her instructions retorted, "Mommy, I want to do what I like to do and not what you want me to do!" Yankele, in his youthful innocence, succinctly captured the essence of the ongoing battle between good and evil in our struggle to make the right choices. During the course of our lives, we become more sophisticated, the props change, and the thresholds differ, but the battle rages until we take our last breath.

I would advise the following practical steps you, my dear reader, to follow:

  1. Take positive action
    1. Evaluate your context and assess your peers. Make sure they are of high moral standing and have good values
    2. Intensify Torah learning
    1. Jewish thought and philosophy
    2. "halacha" - Laws and prescribed modes of behavior. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the rules of conduct governing male-female relationships

  2. Build fences in your interpersonal relationships, minimizing unsupervised co-ed activities

  3. Expand your acts of kindness towards others.

  4. Pray - build the relationship with your Heavenly Parent Who is waiting for you to pull yourself up -- tall and straight -- drawing on the internal resources so clearly evident in your expressions of anguish and pain. Remember: "a broken heart is never shunned by the Almighty (Psalms 51,19)." He will undoubtedly help you clear the way and assist your sincere and wholehearted efforts.

Remember, above all, that our sages teach that the place occupied by the genuinely repentant soul cannot be accessed even by the most righteous of people. (Talmud Brachot 34b)

In memory of my mother, Gloria Degenstein Philipson - Gittel Chana bas Mordechai

November 16, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 3

(3) David, July 2, 2008 11:30 PM

Make no mistake - you must be very strong to serve G-d.

Coming from a less than stellar background myself I too have gone through such times.

R' Nachmans advice about prayer and tenacity as well as seeing the good in oneself have been an immeasurable aid.

May Hashem help you.

(2), November 18, 2002 12:00 AM

this is also very excellent and worth reading. i am soaking it up. it is like my eyes are opened here. judiasm has level, and it is interesting to see how the torah is used and the commentaries and even the rules of behavior. i am interested in learning torah and more about judiasm with you.

(1) Anonymous, November 17, 2002 12:00 AM

Becoming a Baal Teshuvah is not a straight line.

Becoming a Baal Teshuvah is not an easy thing. We have tasted what the rest of the world is like and it is hard to give it up. Even when your intentions are great, you don't always follow through. The problem is that the same force that made you do that aveirah is trying to convince you that you are a failure. That is the main job of the yetzer harah.

There were times in my life when I felt to embarased to daven or learn. I could not imagine how Hashem could ever forgive me. I found a very funny trick. I davened that Hashem should help me to do Teshuvah. I knew that I could never do proper Teshuvah on my own, and I knew that Hashem wanted me to do Teshuvah.

It started to work. Slowly, I could daven a little and hold my head up. But that doesn't mean that I never did an aveirah again, it just means that I kept trying to do Teshuvah.

Once, when I found it very hard I spoke to Rabbi Kirzner, ztl, and he told me that sometimes Hashem puts us in our very difficult places in life becuase he wants us to realize that we can't do it alone, we need Hashem's help.

Now that I have been religious for a long time, I have discovered that it is not only Baal Teshuvahs who make mistakes and feel that they can't daven. I have very frum friends who tell me that they reached a point in their lives that they can not daven. I tell them to try to daven a little, not to force themselves to say the whole thing, and it works.

Rabbi Kirzner, ztl, used to tell us that it was better to daven a little with kavanah, then a lot of empty prayers.

If you look at the meaning of many prayers, it often says that not only do we sin, but our fore fathers did too. I really find this comforting, because it is harder to forgive yourself then anyone else.

There are still times in my life when I feel overwhelmed by the thought of some of the things that I did in the past, and it is at that moment when I focus on the fact that everyone sins, and Hashem wants us to do Teshuvah. I know that it is my yetzer Harah trying to make me feel low, and I fight it with everything I have.

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