woman covering her face with her hands

How to Feel Bad About Yourself

Too much self-satisfaction is dangerous.

Is believing the best about yourself always a virtue?

The greatest religious figures are often those most convinced of their inadequacies. A man once approached Rabbi A.J. Heschel and said “I love my family, I pay my taxes, I keep a good job. What do I need to repent for? I am a pretty good person.” Heschel replied, “Good for you, but the same is not true of me. I am always thinking the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing. I need God, and I need to repent.” Somehow I believe that the goodness of Heschel outshone that of the more self-satisfied gentleman.

What is it to have a sense of sin? Mordecai Kaplan gave an excellent account: “The best we can do” he wrote, “is generally much better than we actually do. To be troubled by that fact is to have a sense of sin.” We could use more of that sense; paradoxically, sometimes believing one is not so good makes us better.

Rabbi David Wolpe’s musings are shared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter, Recharge, a weekly collection of readings to refresh your soul. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

Discover More

Enough About Heschel

It’s notable and laudable that many Jewish groups commemorate Martin Luther King Day, but I’ve always found it a bit ...

Bad Preaching

A great sermon is a collaboration between speaker and listener.

How Can We Forgive the Unforgivable?

The month of Elul ushers in a season of repentance and forgiveness, but it's not always so simple.