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Is Guilt Good?

Is Guilt Good?

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Question:

I had an abortion many years ago. I did it to avoid shame, but instead I am riddled with guilt. I know that I can't reverse what I have done, but is there some way to alleviate my burden? Or must I resign myself to carrying the guilt with me all my life?

Answer:

Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body. Pain itself is not a good thing, but it does serve a purpose. It alerts you that there is something amiss that requires corrective action.

Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body Guilt serves a purpose too. To allow guilt to eat away at us is pointless. Rather, guilt is there to be used as a catalyst for improvement and becoming a better person. We must recognize the mistakes we make, take responsibility for them and not blame others - even if others were partially to blame - and then resolve to be better for the experience. We must turn around the negative feelings, so they can propel us to do more good.

In the case of someone who wrongly had an abortion, perhaps one way to channel the guilt into positivity would be to take on a project that will specifically benefit unwanted or abandoned children. The ultimate would be to actually adopt such a child, but that is not always possible. Here are some other suggestions: volunteer time and donate money to an orphanage; become a "big sister" to a child that needs extra support; or help out a friend or family member who is bringing up their children in difficult circumstances, such as a single mother or someone battling serious illness.

Guilt creates a void in our soul. Fill that void with something meaningful. Redirect your energy towards a new venture that will benefit someone in need. That way you don't merely alleviate the guilt--you actually transform it into an impetus for good.

You can't bring back the potential life that was lost. But you can reclaim your own potential. Don't let guilt paralyze you. Ask G‑d to forgive you. Then turn your guilt around, and use it as a springboard for positive action. Make what was a negative chapter in your life into the introduction to the next chapter, a chapter focused on love and life.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations. To view or purchase David’s art, please visit davidasherbrook.com.
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LC Fl April 27, 2016

Guilt is something I struggle with. Even after I'm forgiven I can't forgive myself. Thank you for your insightful words. Reply

Rachel plantation, FL/USA September 9, 2010

I have struggled with the guilt of this for soo long. I thank you for these healing words that soothe my soul. The pain is sometimes more than I can bear... but I feel God's Love beside me each day. I felt HIM speak to me as I read your words and the support and love in the comments of persons here. I will check out EFRAT and I know one day I will adopt a child - maybe 2 - since I have no children and am now 40. I will not let my mistake be in vain. Thanks be to God. Reply

Mario A-B Hadspen, Australia June 29, 2010

First of all, thank you for sharing your question, reading it has reminded me of a similar situation of a loved one. There are many examples that show G-d in partnership with the wounded soul, a negative into a positive outcome, May G-d turn your experience though painful, into a new opportunity & lead you to reclaim your potential & purpose.
Shalom! Reply

Java Levy Guatemala, Guatemala August 21, 2009

Bravo!!! What great advice!! Reply

duby Morristown August 4, 2009

I really loved your article, namely because it once again shows how beautiful our tradition it is, in that it teaches us how we can take a seemingly negative situation and bring out the positive. It was a very uplifting article. Reply

Anonymous los angeles August 3, 2009

I opened this and it was as if it was written for me in the first place. I thank you so much for shedding light on my path. Now I see clearly. Thanks again. Reply

chana givat Zeev, israel August 2, 2009

I immediately thought of the EFRAT organisation in Israel, where for a thousand dollars they are able to reverse OTHER women's decisions to abort by helping them financially.And may she be freed of her burden Reply

Anonymous Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel August 2, 2009

There is an organization in Israel called Efrat that provides money and initial baby items (strollers, cribes etc) to mothers who wanted to abort pregnancies due to economic difficulties. They have saved tens of thousands of Jewish souls. See their web site. This is definately an apporpriate organization to donate to. Reply

Anonymous August 1, 2009

I had contemplated having an abortion, such a hard choice for one to make. I decided to keep G-d's blessing. My partner is Jewish (i am not) and he left us 10 months after our little girl was born, because he realized that he was not ready for a baby?? i am deeply hurt by his actions, It has not been easy since he left, But i know G-d loves and is looking over me and my sweet girl everyday, but sometimes i think i did not make the right choice, as being a single mother is not the life i wanted for my child!
I think maybe i am being punished in some way?? but i cant live in in the guilt! thinking that we we're not good enough for him to stay with us.
Don't live with guilt, it just eats away at your soul, just know you did what was right for you at the time, that was the choice you made, ask g-d to forgive you, he will. He knows how sorry you are.. He is great, i know he is! Reply

Hariprasad Bhusal Titwala-East, Maharastra,India July 31, 2009

Guilt is good and creative only when we/I sincerely repent, surrender to G-d and work hard for the compensation for the harm done to other.Without compensation repentance is incomplete. One should not be afraid of repenting because it is a total surrender to Almighty/to His Laws so that we/I can start a new life a renewed life to be a part of His creations and not a problem. Reply

Mr. joel diamond July 31, 2009

Well, I think what was done is in the past..
Leave it in the past!
Obviously you learned from a mistake.
Maybe it's time to move on, and let go of
whatever you feel about the incident.
Live in the Present moment!
And, obviously you won't repeat your mistake! Reply

Anonymous bx, ny/usa July 31, 2009

I was once told by a rabbi that G-d knows you mean it when you are sorry for what you did when the opportunity arrises to make the same mistake/sin again, and you do not, but take the opposite path ... In this case, if you should find yourself pregnant again, have the child and raise it with all the love it deserves. That is what I did. G-d does forgive, but you need to forgive yourself also. Reply

Lazer Gurkow June 20, 2008

Kudos to Aaron Moss for a wonderful article. I would like to share a nice thought I heard from Lori Palatnick:

Judaism is filled with regret, not guilt. Regret means that you are let down by what you did, guilt means you are let down by yourself.

Regret allows you to make ammends and move forward because you are fundamentally sound. Guilt inhibits forward movement because we think that een if we make ammends for this particular action we are still fundementally flawed.

Regret is a good idea and a Jewish one to boot. Guilt is one to avoid at all costs. It discourages and induces desparation.\

A matter of semantics, but words are important. Reply

shimon posner Rancho Mirage, CA June 20, 2008

A 93 year old woman knew she was dying and deeperately needed to speak to a rabbi. I knew her well, articulate, intelligent, feisty and independent she ahd been the last time i saw her. She was still feisty, butnow she looked up form her deathbed and told me she had an abortion and she has never been at peace since.

Kudos to Aron Moss for the eloquent and touche 'guilt is to the soul what pain is to he body". When Jonathon Saks was told by a writer that judaism seems so full of guilt he sresponded "true, and it is also full of forgiveness." Reply

Gitel Chana Levin New Haven, CT June 20, 2008

I'm a psychiatrist and am consistantly saddened by how often I hear this story. I have yet to meet a woman who has had an abortion who is not still mourning the loss. They notice kids for years who are the same age their child would have been, they grieve on what would have been the birthday, and many tell me that is when their depression began. How sad that appropriate counseling as to the long term pain this can cause isn't given at the time of this irreversible decision. My heart goes out to these women. Reply

Anonymous Germany June 17, 2008

I went through a similar situation myself, so I do really appreciate the compassionate content of the article. I've always wished afterwards that I had have positive and down to earth advice and counseling before I made such painful decision: I still wish it for all the confused women that think that is the only way to take.
Thanks for the good advice. Reply

Dave kings park, NY June 16, 2008

i feel guilt or being ashamed is hell -- but after all it is a cleansing process, so teshuvah is really all about thinking about what youve done wrong, and than you can move forward. Otherwise dont let it eat you up. Reply

ISABEL MERCADO WESLACO, TEXAS June 16, 2008

The response Rabbi Moss gave to this lady is truly an inspirational one. It seems as if the response came from above with the right words. Reply

Judith Miller Houston, Texas, USA June 16, 2008

Thank you so much Rabbi for this response. I love this message. I am a psychotherapist in Houston, Texas. I appreciate your comment to this woman to not make her feel ashamed to ask G-d first for forgiveness then to help others. Thank you for the advise. Sometimes I feel my work of over 32 years the words just come from my mouth and I don't know where they come from. I am currently writing a book on surviving cancer as a single parent. I am a breast cancer survivor of 7-years. My daughter studies at the University of Texas and is 20-years-old. I am studying finally for my Bat Mitzvah, finally, and will be 59 when it occurs. It is never too late to serve G-d. Thank you for your advise. Reply

David Dvinsk, Latvia June 15, 2008

The guilt is a tool broadly used in cristianity. We are different. All bad things that we do are programmed as well. Why? It was a part of your mission to prove they are bad. Simply be who you are. You are good. Build a family and let the blessing rest upon you. Reply