Shemini 5771 — For Shame
Moshe Katsav, former president of Israel, has no shame.
That’s a bad thing.
This week’s Torah portion, Shemini, contains an instruction from Moses to Aaron: “Moses said to Aaron, approach the altar and prepare your sin-offering…” (Leviticus 9:7). Why does Aaron need to be told to approach the altar? The midrash says it is because he sinned when he participated in creating the Golden Calf, and he was ashamed to be bringing a calf to God for a sacrifice. So Moses had to tell him to overcome his reluctance, to assure him it was OK to approach the altar with your sacrifice.
Why was it OK? Davka because he felt embarrassed. The fact that he felt shame for what he had done indicated repentance. He regretted his sin; so God forgave him.
But the forgiveness cannot come without the shame and the regret.
When I was young, in the late 60s and early 70s, emotions like shame and guilt were looked down upon. We were all supposed to be free and not ashamed of whatever outlandish behavior we engaged in. Some of my friends from those days I suppose might accuse me of having become an “old fogey” in my middle age. I prefer to think I’ve simply grown up!
Shame is an important emotion. If you can’t feel shame when you have done a sin, especially when you have caused real harm to another person, how are you to improve? How are you to learn to fix your mistakes?
Israel’s former President, Moshe Katsav, will have seven years in jail to reflect on his behavior. I hope he can quickly find his way to feeling shame instead of defiance. I was not in the courtroom; I did not see the evidence myself. But Israeli courts are generally fair, and if three judges unanimously voted to convict him, the evidence was “beyond a reasonable doubt” that he was guilty of rape and sexual harassment (the dissent on the court was over the length of his jail term, not over his guilt).
He may honestly think what he did wasn’t that bad. He may honestly think he had some kind of invitation. But when confronted with the facts, especially the fact of how the women felt towards him, about which there can be no argument, he should have felt shame, remorse, and contrition. Instead he lashed out at the judges and lashed out at the victims. His supporters have gone so far as to cast personal aspersions on the judges.
I pray for his sake and for the sake of the nation that he can learn the lesson from the Midrash on this week’s Torah portion about the importance of feeling shame. If he feels shame perhaps he will take responsibility for his actions and apologize to the women he abused and the nation whose trust he violated. And that would help all of us heal from the trauma he created.