The 7-Step Guilt Trip
It’s been said that this
world is like a down escalator. You have to move forward just to stay where you
are, and you have to work very hard to make any real progress. But if you make
no effort, and just try to maintain a comfortable niche in life, you will just
be carried down. How far? Rashi describes seven levels, which end at denying the
very existence of HaShem. It sounds extreme; but the truth is, it happens all
Once, back in Miami, a person walked into my shiur by
accident. The shiur was on borer. When it was over, he came over and
said, “Rabbi, are there really people who do this?” I couldn’t believe it.
I was a rabbi just 6 months out of the kollel, and I didn’t believe there was
anybody who didn’t do it. I told him, “Everybody does this.” He was so
taken aback, he didn’t know what to say.
Let us use this person to illustrate hypothetically the seven
levels. In order to be comfortable about your level of observance, you have to
rationalize it, so that you don’t feel guilty about what you’re not doing.
The first level is not learning. Such a person avoids learning anything about hilchos
borer, because it will only remind him and make him feel guilty about what
he doesn’t know. And since he doesn’t know, he doesn’t do, which is the
second level. Then, one day he’s invited to a friend’s house for a Shabbos
meal, and the friend is studying the fish, trying to decide how to eat it
without violating borer. This person knows that he should also be
concerned, and he starts feeling guilty. To calm his conscience, he tells
himself that his host is a fanatic. This is the third level, loathing people who
keep the Torah. By telling himself that the other guy is crazy, black, whatever,
and that he is normal, he avoids his guilt feelings. And he goes home, goes to
sleep, wakes up in the morning and says the brocho, sh’lo asani fanatic.
But there’s no escape. He goes to shul the next Shabbos,
and what topic is the rabbi speaking on? Borer! How does he avoid what
the rabbi is teaching? V’sonei es hachachamim. He tells himself that
the rabbi surely must know what he’s talking about—he’s his rabbi, after
all, but from his mouth he will never accept anything. Why?
He’ll find some fault, no matter how far-fetched. 20 years
ago, he didn’t say hello to my grandmother. Look at the beautiful car he
drives! He’s obviously in it just for the money. Or what a jalopy he drives!
He must be a shlepper. Anything to posul the rabbi so that he won’t
have to listen to him about borer.
Then, the next stage: When shul’s over, at the kiddush, and
he hears people saying things like, “You know, the rabbi’s right, maybe we
should be more careful in hilchos Shabbos, and learn about keeping borer.
”Now, he can’t maintain that all of his friends are crazy. So he goes to the
next level: moneia es acherim m’la’asos. He becomes a one-man crusade
to stop people from doing these “extra things.” He can’t go over and tell
people not to be more frum. But he goes to his friends and tells them, “Learning
about borer, that’s fine. But I just want to warn you. Do you think
this is going to end here? I give it a week until your wives are wearing tichels
down to their nose. In three weeks, you’ll be taking a shower in a black hat
This will suffice to intimidate some people. But others will
not be deterred, and on the contrary, they will invite him to join their study
group. His response: “Do you think that if borer was really a mitzvah,
that I would hesitate to join? But borer is just a chumrah.” He denies
the validity of the mitzvah.
Then, somebody shows him that all the seforim say that borer
is not just a chumrah, but an absolute requirement for everybody. Now
what does he do? There’s only one way out: “All right, so it’s a mitzvah.
But I can’t do everything. That mitzvah’s not for me.” What does that
mean? It’s not the main concern in his life. He has other things to worry
about. But if the mitzvah, the command is not primary, then the One who commands
it is not primary, either. In other words, he denies that HaShem is a main
concern in his life. HaShem intrudes. Sometimes he lets him in, sometimes he
doesn’t. His life depends on other things, but not on HaShem and His mitzvos.
He has reached the final, rock-bottom level: denying HaShem.
Now, this is not the same as somebody who falls short in some
area, and realizes that it’s wrong, and wants to change, but is not quite
ready. Such a person realizes the truth and hopes to improve. Such a person is
certainly not a denier of HaShem and His mitzvos. But we all have to remember to
be careful to stay off that down escalator.