“The Blame Game”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

America, and the American media, in fact, the world and world media, are frequently consumed with what is known as the “Blame Game.” Is Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, a maniacal provocateur, or is President Trump falling into a trap that Jong-Un has set to spark a world conflagration? Can’t mention the “Blame Game,” without noting that the tabloids were absolutely obsessed with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, taking sides on who was responsible for the couple’s breakup after thirteen years of being together and six children.

The Bible is filled with stories of blame. In Genesis 3:12, when G-d asks Adam why he ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam responds by blaming G-d. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate it!” The woman also says to G-d that it’s His fault. “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” (Genesis 3:13).

An obvious case of blaming the other is found in the story of Cain and Abel. When G-d confronts Cain for killing his brother, G-d says to Cain, Genesis 4:9, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain replies by refusing to accept the blame, saying, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

In Genesis 30:1-2, when Rachel saw that she had no children, she desperately beseeches Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob responds callously, that it is not his fault. “Am I in place of G-d, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” I am fertile, I have children. It’s your problem!

In Genesis 42, after Joseph demands that Benjamin remain as a slave in Egypt as punishment for stealing Joseph’s chalice, Joseph’s brothers say to one another that they are guilty for what they did to Joseph when he besought us and we would not hear. That is why this distress has come upon us. Reuben then laces in to them, saying (Genesis 42:21,22), “Did I not speak unto you, saying, do not sin against this child, and you would not hear? Therefore all this blood is required.”

There is even a reference in this week’s parasha, Ha’azinu, in which G-d scolds the People of Israel for not acknowledging their own shortcomings. Instead, they accuse G-d of being corrupt and show no gratitude for all the good G-d has done for them. In Deuteronomy 32:6, G-d declares:הַלְהשׁם תִּגְמְלוּ זֹאת, עַם נָבָל וְלֹא חָכָם, הֲלוֹא הוּא אָבִיךָ קָּנֶךָ, הוּא עָשְׂךָ וַיְכֹנְנֶךָ , Is it to the L-rd that you do this, O vile and unwise people?Has He not created you and established you?

Now we discover that Taylor Swift, America’s great pop singer, has issued a new record-breaking single entitled, “Look at what you made me do,” filled with rage and even hatred for others. But, the greatest anger is reserved for herself. She says, “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead.”

The ten day period of penitence between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is meant to be a time for intensive introspection. Each person is to look into their deepest inner selves, not to blame themselves or others, but to find the faults that are in themselves, and are oh so human.

The Bible, in Ecclesiastes 7:20, gives us an out by boldly proclaiming, כִּי אָדָם אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא . There is no perfectly righteous person who does no evil. We are, after all, human. We fail, we sin. Rabbi Mark Wildes, in his dynamic “Eli Talks” (Jewish adaptation of the inspirational “Ted Talks”) speech, refers to failure as “falling back,” which is to be seen as one of the most powerful gifts that we have–to pick ourselves up and repair ourselves.

The most challenging first step of Teshuvah is recognizing that we’ve done something wrong, accepting that it is our fault no matter who might have provoked or seduced us. G-d has given each one of us the wisdom and the strength to recognize what is wrong and the ability to resist the temptations. An even greater gift is that once we have yielded to temptation, we can stand up, march on and even wipe our slates clean and start new and fresh.

Maimonides says that the Teshuvah process continues by resolving not to commit the sin again. Ultimately, the greatest test of Teshuvah is to be faced with the same temptations, to blow them away and to not yield. That person, Maimonides suggests, is a Ba’al Teshuvah Gemura, a person who has completely repented (Laws of Teshuvah 2:1).

Taylor Swift is wrong. We do not die from sin. In fact, we can grow as a result, if we strive to extirpate the sin from within us, to be reborn and cleansed again. Now that we are aware and know the bitter wages of sin, we can perform good, positive actions with fresh enthusiasm. This is healthy guilt, not destructive guilt, which comes to our salvation, encouraging us to be better than we were yesterday.

This is the message of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is not, “Look what you made me do,” it is “Look what I let happen to me, and I am determined never to let it happen again!”

May you be blessed.

Rosh Hashana 5778 is observed this year on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday and Friday, September 20, 21 and 22, 2017.

The New Year holiday is immediately followed on Friday night, and Saturday, September 22-23, by Shabbat Shuva.

The Fast of Gedaliah will be observed on Sunday, September 24, 2017 from dawn until nightfall.

Wishing you a שָׁנָה טוֹבָה –Shana Tovah, a very Happy and Healthy New Year.