Friday, June 05, 2009

(What) were you thinking?

In 1859, New York Congressman, Daniel Sickles gunned Philip Barton Key down in cold blood. Twenty-three years later, Charles J. Guiteau assassinated U.S. President James Garfield at a Boston railway station. The former was acquitted, the latter hanged. Both accused used the same line of defense- one that would become both notorious and intriguing: “temporary insanity”.

Had either case gone before a Beth Din, the judges would have laughed their defense right out of the courtroom. Judaism teaches that a person only ever does something wrong if they are temporarily insane, because a thinking Jew would naturally do as G-d wishes. The legal term for this is “shtus” or foolishness and the Talmud preaches that a person does not sin unless they have momentary shtus.

You might feel uncomfortable with the thought of lapsing into insanity a number of times a day (an hour?), but it really is a comforting notion.

We all know that we’re not perfect and that we mess up regularly. We promise ourselves that we will treat people better, keep the gossip down, learn more and grow spiritually. With all good intentions, much of the time we let ourselves down.

Some religions preach that messing up is part of being human; that we are inherently sinners, programmed to fail and destined to pay the price.

Judaism sees things completely differently. It teaches that we are innately spiritual and that spiritual success is programmed into our systems. When we mess up- regardless of how frequently that happens- we get up, dust ourselves off and move on.

You’ve surely stopped to ask yourself “what was I thinking” after behaving in a way that you know doesn’t suit you. In fact, you should probably acknowledge that “I wasn’t thinking”. Messing up happens when we stop thinking for a moment; when we lose our focus and succumb to shtus. Fixing that is merely a matter of getting back on task, refocusing our mind and getting in touch with our true self.

Judaism argues that getting it wrong is temporary and out of character. And easy to fix.

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