By: Hillary Schulman
Judaism comes with a lot of stereotypes – some of them unfair, but some of them deeply rooted in our heritage and history. A major stereotype that is associated with Judaism is the concept of “Jewish guilt.” It is very difficult to find even one Jewish person who has not directly experienced the hold this type of guilt has on us. This stereotype is more often than not associated with Jewish mothers. My favorite television show is “The Big Bang Theory,” in which one of the characters, Howard Wolowitz, is constantly dealing with his stereotypical Jewish mother’s “mishogas.” In fact, Howard’s susceptibility to Jewish guilt is so high that he even assumes that he and his new wife will be living in his mother’s house for the rest of their lives. So where did this sense of guilt come from, and why does it affect us so profoundly?
This week’s parsha, Vayikra, is all about forgiveness. It mentions that when you sin against yourself or your community, you incur guilt. The parsha also talks about the different types of sinning, whether it was intentional or unintentional and what should incur guilt. There are a lot of things that one could do that would incur guilt, such as touching something that was unclean, or swearing, or even doing something unintentionally that, if done intentionally, would also incur guilt. Now, how does one absolve himself of this inevitable guilt? He must make a sacrifice. In biblical times it was an animal sacrifice, but in today’s world, that wouldn’t fly. Instead, we as Jews are without a physical action to alleviate the guilt, so we carry the guilt around like a dead weight and try to pass it on to others, like our children. This is today’s world’s sacrifice: our peace of mind.
However, there is an action one can take in order to alleviate this generations-old weight. Forgiveness. Forgiveness unto others and also unto onerself. Understand where the guilt is coming from, forgive the person internally and/or externally for their projections, and tackle the issue head-on. For example, if your mother makes you feel guilty about not coming home for the High Holidays, you can understand that she’s upset about missing her children. Forgive her for projecting her thoughts onto you, and also forgive yourself for not coming home for the High Holidays. Life happens. It is up to you to own it, accept it, change what you don’t like, and move on.