Guilt is Good

Why are some countries rich while others are poor? Why do some countries attract immigrants while others lose citizens who flee in large numbers? Why do some countries enjoy relative tranquility while others are seething cauldrons of violence?

Posh and politically correct universities shrink from discussing these contentious questions because they fear the answer might refute their deepest beliefs.

Though largely ignored in academia, numerous books have been published dealing with this perplexing puzzle. To mention just three—The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes; Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson; and Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson. While conceding that climate, geography, and natural resources carry some influence, they along with almost everyone who has studied the disparity of societies concludes that the wealth/poverty gap is chiefly due to culture.

A culture is bound up with the language with which it communicates. We tend to associate French as the language of romance, whereas Russian lends itself to brooding epics about the darker side of human nature. As God’s language, Hebrew gives us understanding into what God wishes for us to find important.

I would like to offer one small insight which grants us a spiritual strategy with practical application in our lives. English clearly distinguishes between winning a lot of money and earning a lot of money. Not all languages do the same.


winning money = ganar dinero = earning money


winning money = gagner de l’argent = earning money

Unfortunately, I am not fluent in these languages and I am sure there are ways in which the context clarifies whether someone won the lottery or earned a fortune. Nonetheless, there are cultural implications when a language fails to distinguish between acquiring money randomly or through hard work. Is it out of the question that in some very small way, this could be linked to the launching of the industrial revolution in 18th century England rather than Spain or France?

Here is another example. What can we understand from the fact that Hebrew possesses more words than any other language for moral transgression?

Here are just some of the words:

avel-(Deuteronomy 25:16); avon, chatat-(Deuteronomy 19:15); aveirah-(Deuteronomy 17:2); pesha-(Genesis 50:17); ma’al-(Leviticus 5:15); oshek-(Proverbs 14:31); chammas-(Psalms 55:10); nevalah-(Deuteronomy 22:21)

There are many more, and remember, there are no synonyms in Hebrew. Each word reflects a separate subtle nuance.

Sadly, the lofty Hebrew concept of always being alert to the possibility of sin and never straying “after your heart and after your eyes…” (Numbers 15:39) has been trivialized by comedic mocking of Jewish guilt. The truth is that feeling guilt for wrongdoing and then trying to atone is a competitive advantage and one that you can easily adopt to dramatically improve your own life.

One type of moral wrongdoing is not living up to your own goals. Imagine you set yourself a professional or a self-improvement objective; say a sales target, a be-nice-to-spouse week, or a weight-loss plan. Ordinarily, were you not to meet your aspiration, you might shrug your shoulders and move on. Or you might wallow in guilt. Either way, spiritually, your self-disappointment remains.

Once you remember the value of acknowledging and expiating guilt, you can set yourself a minor consequence or penance for not achieving that to which you committed yourself. You might run five times around the block or memorize a poem. By tying an action to your disappointment, you will find that your body and your soul smoothly cooperate in both moving on and also making it more likely that you achieve the next goal you set. If you repeatedly miss your goals, pay attention: it is a sign that deeper analysis is needed.

While personally monitoring one’s own commitments and behaviors and noting when we fail is valuable, attributing collective guilt to others has been a dangerous trend throughout history. The despised group was identified by color, by ethnicity, by financial status, but despised they were. Horrific consequences followed. Sadly, the idea of collective guilt is rearing its head again in America (and other countries), as socialist dreams once again become popular. Understanding that we are repeating mistakes of the past is vital for combatting them. I strongly advise you to follow the trail, starting with a deep look at chapter 11 in Genesis, with our audio CD set, Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel, which is on sale right now.

Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel
On Sale for $24

Nine seemingly simple verses in Genesis. Join Rabbi Daniel and gain insight into human nature and better understand the continuing dilemma society faces in choosing whether to live under God’s rule or under human control. You will meet Nimrod, the world’s first tyrant, and learn how an analysis of his name in Hebrew reveals his essence.

7 thoughts on “Guilt is Good”

  1. It has been said, “clothes make the man”. There seems to be some truth to that statement. What appears to be more accurate is the impact language makes on how a person thinks which leads to behavior, or actions. Thoughts always preceed words. Ideas have to formulate to fruition through the language structure in the brain. It makes sense that some ideas do not translate from one language to another. The point is that how a person processes thoughts in the brain can lead to different outcomes by simply taking a different approach. Just a thought.

  2. Deborah Christensen

    God does not guilt us to give us shame. He shows us our wrongdoing to convict us and show us how to change for the better. If we never felt convicted, or guilt, we would continue on our merry way committing the same sins expecting the same forgiveness. Yes, we have been washed clean be the blood of the lamb, but we must also face what we have been washed of. Before we can be washed, we must repent. Repenting requires acknowledging what we have, which we know through guilt, and turning away from it.

  3. Greetings,Rabbi Daniel,
    Guilt trip is like being under a rain 🌧 cloud, with no umbrella ☂, and no shelter from the storm. Guilt is the past, not the future. Remember in the Bible, Ye without sin cast the first stone? Who will walk this earth without a Single Sin? Didn’t Jesus tell us all have sinned, and have come short of the Glory of God? If we stand in front of the Mirror long enough, we will view the real soul. That image is you and me. Years ago after troubled seas, in my marriage, I truly sought the Face of Jesus. To my prayer closet, I entered, shut the door, physically and prayed. I remained silent. The Holy Spirit, said, Go Forward. My sins, my guilt, my anger, my disparity, my disappointment, my woes, my self pity, was over. It was left at the Foot of the Cross. Amazing my little Grandson, Joel, at the young age of 4, years old, told me one day, “Grandma you said leave it at the Cross, don’t pick it back up, Grandma “. I always said, I wondered would my Grandson, Joel, be the next Billy Graham. Guilt is from Satan. And Satan will give it to you, with great increase. How, with lies. Defeat. But Jesus is Love. Not guilt, not comparing you to other people. Jesus created you individually. We are not a small piece of a puzzle. We are created from the Master’s Hands. Just like a child needs daily encouragement, we too, need admiration, from one another. Not Guilt and shame. If we as God’s children, sought out purposely, every day, to teach the world of the Love of God, instead of cruel Gossip, back stabbing slander, envy, and hatred, No guilt, or shame, we could forgive. No record of wrongs, love for one another, and peace. I am going to give an account of my life to Jesus Christ. His Holy, Blood 🩸, covered my guilt and shame. If we really knew today, would be the last breakfast, we enjoyed, the last kiss, on the cheek, given to your spouse, the last, dropping off at school, your son or daughter, the last wave, at your friends at work, the last time of driving behind the wheel of your car, because less than a mile up the road, will be your last breath, we certainly would not focus on guilt. Stained hands and hearts ♥️ we all have. The Sinner. You and Me. But we who know Jesus, are washed whiter than snow.
    Denise Shue
    Sanford, NC

  4. Jason Determann

    Interesting. Now I remember the Rabbi always admonishing guilt in terms of guilt in making money and here we speak of it in a good light. I for one don’t waste time on regret or guilt. I observe and adapt. If you make a mistake, you ought not to repeat it right? But then again the good Lord even uses our failures in his plans, so I always tell myself everything happens for a reason and could not have happened any other way. A part of living up to your own goals is making them realistic and achievable. If you don’t reach them, then you simply keep going at it, perhaps needs more time. Or the goal is unrealistic and you change it. I am a very much a go at my own pace kind of person. Also when you rule yourself and play your own games and make the rules for that game, is it possible for you to even lose?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Right, Jason,
      I should feel guilt for the wrong things I’ve done and for omitting things I should have done. But important not to feel guilt over right things that society or the culture wants you to feel bad about like owning property, you evil landlord, you!

      1. Jason Determann

        I’m with ya on that, guilt for moral failures, sure. The key here though is to avoid guilt by doing the right thing. Me a landlord? Nah, may it never be! But develop land? Sure! I would much rather prefer selling homes and land to people after I improved upon it, and then they OWN it. We may disagree on this, but I scorn rent-seeking behavior, always have. Maybe my ethics on capitalism is a bit different than yours, but I am no socialist! You may be aware of Blackrock hedge funds buying up homes and renting them out. If this goes on on a large scale such institutions may turn USA into a “Renter nation” absolutely horrible for us! I sent a rather long letter to you the other day via the website which may elaborate my positions on how we practice capitalism.
        God bless.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Dear Jason–
          The aspect of America becoming a renter nation instead of a homeowning nation is the topic of next week’s podcast currently under preparation. I too was very struck by Blackrock as well as The Blackstone Group suddenly becoming America’s landlords. I am terribly concerned about it. Thanks for your other letter also.

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