The Gate of Shame

Originally posted at MamaDomain.

This understanding of shame is new to me and I find it very interesting. The Sages have said, “Intellect is shame and shame is intellect.” (p 81) and believe that only man has shame since only man possesses wisdom. Furthermore, the level of shame needed is indirectly proportionate to the level of wisdom one has. Greater wisdom requires greater shame.

It seems the real issue with regard to shame is who one is concerned about having see their sins. So someone in the public eye might have enough shame to avoid the scrutiny of their peers, but give no mind to what is done in secret. But one who lives outside of the public eye might do whatever they want at all times. Shame is presented as the quality that prevents you from doing what no one else will see you do. This is important because it is, in fact, God who sees the secret sins – even what is done only in the heart. In actuality, if someone were to avoid all sins his entire life for the sake of other men seeing them, it would not count as righteousness, for this is not shame but merely fear of being caught or losing reputation.

“But the highest form of shame is shame before the Holy One Blessed be He, as it is written (Ezra 9:6): “My God, I am ashamed and abashed to lift up, my God, my face to you.”” (p 83) This is the context in which this passage, and others that speak of shame, have been understood.

The definition of shame is very different:

1. the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another: She was overcome with shame.
2. susceptibility to this feeling: to be without shame.
3. disgrace; ignominy: His actions brought shame upon his parents.
4. a fact or circumstance bringing disgrace or regret: The bankruptcy of the business was a shame. It was a shame you couldn’t come with us.
–verb (used with object)
5. to cause to feel shame; make ashamed: His cowardice shamed him.
6. to drive, force, etc., through shame: He shamed her into going.
7. to cover with ignominy or reproach; disgrace.
8.for shame! you should feel ashamed!: What a thing to say to your mother! For shame!
9. put to shame,
a. to cause to suffer shame or disgrace.
b. to outdo; surpass: She played so well she put all the other tennis players to shame.

This speaks to guilt over having been caught, or to pain and suffering. In contrast, the sages are speaking to the realization of who we are in relation to God and understanding that it is only by truly understanding this that we are willing to subject our state of being and our actions to Him. I would challenge that Yeshua cleared up some teaching towards this end and spoke of us being transformed while yet alive into a spiritual state of being with God that is more about right relationship than fear of doing wrong. I still believe there is much wisdom here if one can get over the word “shame” to define it.

This entire chapter is ultimately about loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself – what Yeshua clearly states are the two greatest commands and the ones on which hang all Torah and the Prophets. The sages go so far as to say that one should never act in such a way that a friend would be uncomfortable objecting, and must never ask for something that one would be uncomfortable not giving. Both would manipulate the other person unlovingly.

“About this the Sage has said: Love only the man who gives the impression that he cannot get along without you, though you need him more than he needs you, and who, if you offend him, will forgive you and make it seem as if he was the offender, and who will ask of you things that he does not need so that you will not be ashamed to ask of him.” (p 87) I find this such beautiful counsel.

Some simple steps to habituate yourself to shame:
1) always sit in the presence of someone before whom you are ashamed (someone who you do not want to see you do something unrighteous)
2) avoid losing your dignity by asking things from others (once it’s gone no one will give it back to you)

A few important tips for not stepping out of bounds here – it is not loving or righteous to point out what others have done wrong to shame them and call attention away from your own shame (this can also make you less likely to repent, because it puffs your own head up thinking you didn’t do anything all that wrong). Bear up under shame if it’s given for doing the right thing (as in not going along with the crowd into their sin and then they mock you for it); if performing a command from God brings shame on you, bear up under that as well! That is counted for your righteousness; remember also to exhort everyone to do good (if they shame you for it, that is not your concern).

In all you do, seek not to bring shame on others and instead put proper shame on yourself so that others don’t try to put it on you and so that you don’t behave with impropriety as someone who thinks themselves better than they are. Acknowledge your weaknesses, put yourself in the presence of those who hold you accountable, and behave as though the Lord is always watching–He is, and He sees what is done in secret.

Application to Parenting

I could simply rewrite the last paragraph – In all you do, seek to not bring shame on your children and be sure to put proper shame on yourself so that others don’t try to put it on you and so that you don’t behave with impropriety as though you think better of yourself and your parenting than you really are. Acknowledge your weaknesses, put yourself in the presence of those who hold you accountable, and behave as though the Lord is always watching – He is, and He sees what you do to your children in secret.

It is in the privacy of the home that our true selves come out. Our family knows who we really are. Too often the way we treat children is how we’d never treat anyone else–not a peer, not someone else’s children. Today I admit I lost my temper with my oldest. I behaved shamefully. So I humbled myself before him in front of his siblings. I apologized for my sin. I sought his forgiveness. And I set it in my heart to never behave that way again. I could offer excuses but none of them justify losing my temper. I could explain, but none of it makes my behavior even close to righteous. So I am seeking to acknowledge what is weakness in me and prayerfully find ways to set myself up for success.

Who am I to focus on my children with a magnifying glass that seeks to root out their weaknesses and flaws? I have so many of my own to be concerned about. When I see their weaknesses it is certainly my responsibility, as one who loves them and wants to teach them to be self-aware and to equip them with tools for success, to point things out and help them find solutions. What does parenting look like if you are helping a child identify their own weaknesses and find solutions for overcoming them instead of ignoring your own weaknesses while you try to eradicate your child’s? This is what Grace-Based Discipline is about.

Imagine the long term change that could come in you, your child, your relationship, your family, your friends, your neighborhood, the world – if we would all focus our attention on our own shame and strive to live out love for God and others. Our children, even though they come from us, are others. And yet, because they come from us, they fall into a middle ground in a way – the others as we love ourselves. How we treat them reveals the real love we have for ourselves, and for others. Sometimes that reveals areas where we need to apply these principles of shame a bit more actively.