When G‑d first created the world, there was a certain divine sameness to all things: "And G‑d saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). In this world of sameness, Adam and Eve were aware that they were naked, but felt no shame.

After eating from the Tree of Knowledge—and it was a tree of knowledge, not of ignorance—Adam and Eve felt ashamed. What kind of knowledge could have caused this change in their perception of the world?

The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge gave Adam and Eve the ability to make distinctions. Whereas before the world seemed one-dimensional, now it had many dimensions.

In this new world of contrasts, all things were not the same. Some things were personal, others were not. Some things were private, some public. When they looked at themselves, they saw that they were naked—that is, they saw that without clothing, there was nothing to distinguish what was private about a human being from what was public. Their new awareness of the need for clothing caused Adam and Eve keen discomfort. That feeling of discomfort was shame.

The sense of shame that originated with Adam and Eve was a healthy development. It gave them the ability to make distinctions: between private and public, modest and immodest, moral and immoral. Shame means that we recognize these borders. Shame is an essential part of G‑d's plan, because it is the means to retaining innocence.

The first human beings felt three kinds of shame: humility, embarrassment, and guilt.

After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve felt a kind of shame similar to the shame that comes from having done something wrong; because they were able to see the contrast between G‑d's greatness and their own smallness, they felt small and insignificant. We call that aspect of shame humility.

Humility is what you feel when you're in the presence of someone who is superior to you. He may not criticize or embarrass you, but the very fact that he is much greater than you can make you feel small. And that is shame in a positive sense.

In the days of the Temple, there was a sage who was riding down the road on his donkey. Off to the side of the road he saw a man who appeared to be exceedingly ugly. The sage stopped and said, "Why do you seem so incredibly ugly?"

"Don't complain to me," the man retorted, "complain to my Maker."

The sage had recognized that the man was totally self-centered, and that he was really disfigured by his lack of humility.

The sage used the man's ugly appearance to teach him humility in a very successful way. He said, "Excuse me, but why do you seem so ugly?" as if to ask, "Do you take credit for that, too? Did you make yourself ugly?"

When the man said, "Don't complain to me, complain to my Maker," he was really saying, "I didn't do this, my Creator made me this way. My Creator is responsible for the way in which I appear to you. I don't run the world. I'm not responsible for everything. G‑d is doing this to me; what am I supposed to do?"

For the first time in his life he felt humble; for the first time in his life he was admitting his dependence on the Creator.

That's why, when Adam and Eve felt humility, it was a healthy development. Before eating from the Tree of Knowledge, when the world still appeared to them as one-dimensional, they had not felt the contrast between the Creator and themselves. Now, for the first time, they realized the difference between "small" and "great."

The second aspect of shame Adam and Eve felt was embarrassment.

Like the bumps on a highway that you feel when you're weaving out of your lane, embarrassment is a warning sign telling you that you crossed a border, that you are trespassing. If you accidentally stray out of the proper lane, you are ashamed and you feel embarrassed. This kind of shame, this feeling of embarrassment, pushes you to go back where you do belong.

Just as fear is a warning that danger threatens, shame and embarrassment are the warning of a border being crossed: the border of privacy.

Before they ate from the tree, Adam and Eve were naked. But they felt no embarrassment because they recognized no distinction between "private" and "public." Gaining the power of discernment meant realizing the difference between themselves and their surroundings. For the first time, they had a sense of privacy. They were uncomfortable and embarrassed when they realized that their privacy was violated by their own nakedness. They had been caught on the wrong side of the border.

Then G‑d came to them and said, "Where are you?" What He meant was, "Where are your borders?

"Do you know where you belong? Where don't you belong? Are you where you belong? Are you not where you belong? Where are your borders?"

Then Adam and Eve took fig leaves to cover up their private parts because if you want to strengthen your borders, you increase your modesty.

The third aspect of shame is guilt. Guilt is the inner response that lets you know a relationship has been violated. It's the feeling of despair that you get when you think that a relationship may never be the same again. For example, if you unintentionally hurt your best friend's feelings, you wonder if things will ever be the same again between you. The truest expression of the emotion of guilt is, "Can you ever forgive me? Am I as acceptable to you as before?"

We're talking here about the emotion of guilt, not the legal definition. Feeling guilty is not the same as taking responsibility for an act. To find you legally guilty, or responsible for an act, a court of law has to prove that you knowingly and maliciously perpetrated that act, that what happened can be traced to your decision, choice, or action.

This is not so with guilt feelings. Here, the guilt you are feeling means "damaged" in the eyes of others. For example, if a human being handles certain species of animal young, the infant may be shunned by its parents because it now carries the human scent. The animal is not guilty of a crime, but might feel blemished. Likewise, you may feel guilty, i.e., your relationships with your parents and spouse may be damaged or blemished, by a crime committed against you, such as rape or sexual abuse.

This emotion of guilt can occur only in the context of a relationship. In order to feel unacceptable, you have to feel unacceptable to someone. If nothing happened to violate a parental or spousal relationship, you're not feeling guilty; there isn't anyone to be guilty to.

When you've done something wrong and you're feeling guilty, it's because you're thinking, "Someone told me not to, but I did," or " G‑d told me it was wrong, but it happened." It's not that a law was violated, but that a relationship was violated; not that a commandment was ignored, but the Commander.

That's why you can feel guilty even when you know that what happened was unintentional and not your fault. In spite of

the fact that you weren't responsible for the abuse, if your relationships with close friends and relatives were damaged, you feel damaged and you'd like to straighten things out. What you are feeling is the need to be able to be close to them once more.

When you know which relationship was violated, then you can say, "I'm really unchanged. I'm still yours." If you didn't know which relationship was damaged, but you had some vague feeling of guilt, you wouldn't be able to resolve the feeling. That's when guilt becomes never-ending, pointless, and unhealthy.

In such a case, you try to forgive yourself, and that doesn't make any sense. How can you forgive yourself? Besides, you're much too harsh on yourself. You'll never really forgive yourself, but you'll do a good job of punishing yourself. The result is that you're just out to get yourself; what you're feeling is self-destructive, but you're not experiencing legitimate guilt.

If you want to help an abused person who's feeling guilty, don't try to convince him that he shouldn't feel that way. Instead, try redefining that feeling for him as damaged or unworthy.

This may explain why most children and many adults experience guilt following an abusive experience. They may say that they feel guilty even though they do not expect to be held responsible or to be punished. However, they may expect to be rejected by their loved ones.

This is especially true in the event of sexual abuse. If a child feels guilty for what happened, don't deny the child that guilt. Children who have been sexually abused don't need you to confirm their innocence; they need help understanding their sense of loss and what to do about it.

If a child feels guilty—and most children who have been molested do feel guilty—allow the child that guilt but help her to identify and define it.

By giving her the right to her guilt, you will be able to move her on to the healing process. By allowing her to feel shame—humble, embarrassed, and guilty as we have defined it—she can then work on restoring her innocence. Shame is the road to her innocence.

One day a woman came to talk to me. She had been sexually abused from the time she was nine until she was fifteen. Years of therapy had not helped her resolve her feelings of guilt and shame. The therapist had tried to convince her that since she wasn't responsible, she shouldn't feel guilty.

She said to me, "Of course I know that it wasn't my fault and I'm not responsible, but still I feel guilty."

I said, "You really mean `unacceptable.' The guilt that you are feeling is a sense of loss. You're asking, Am I as acceptable now as before? Can I still be loved? How will the people in my life treat me now?' "

You would think that she'd have had an extremely negative reaction, but she didn't. Nothing of the sort. She said, "You're right, I knew it all along. They're trying to convince me that my feeling isn't legitimate, but it really is."

She sounded relieved to say it. Then she asked, "What am I supposed to do now?"

I said, "Let's talk about what feeling guilty really means. If a relationship was damaged, that feels like guilt. If you can identify which relationship you feel was damaged—that with your parents, friends, or future husband—then you will have identified the guilt.

"The feelings you are experiencing are really very healthy. First of all, you now feel small, humbled, and fragile. You know that you need the support of your family, friends, and G‑d.

"Second, you're feeling embarrassed. Your privacy was violated, trespassed, cheapened. You need to have it back, intact, restored, to feel safe. You can do that by strengthening your observance of modesty.

"And finally, you are experiencing the sense of guilt. You feel estranged, alienated, unworthy, and despairing. You feel that your innocence has been lost, never to be regained. You question whether the people in your life will ever be able to accept you after what has happened to you. Your relationships need strengthening.

"If you ask your family or your husband if they still love you, and they tell you that they do, believe them. If you ask G‑d to forgive you, and to accept you as you are, He will. And in doing so, you become innocent, whole, and unviolated once again."

The only legitimate meaning of repentance is to repair a relationship that was in some way violated and damaged, whether with G‑d or with another person. In doing so, we become as innocent as before the relationship was damaged. The three parts of shame are the way we get there; shame is the road that leads us to innocence.

We know from experience that when such an attempt is made to regain innocence—no matter what had happened before, no matter how long the innocence had been lacking—it is regained in a very short time. Regardless of the reason for feeling ashamed, as soon as we ask for forgiveness, we are once again as innocent, as unviolated, lovable, and acceptable as we were before the event.

We must believe that innocence can never be lost entirely. At any moment, and under all circumstances, we are forever capable of regaining our innocence. We are able to undo all the damage, and become once again healthy, whole, and innocent, because we have within us a place of innocence that never gets violated.

When the Children of Israel made the golden calf, the men threw their gold into the fire and out came the idol. To atone for the idolatry, they were told to create a Holy Sanctuary, for which they would need a large quantity of gold (Exod. 25:8; 35:5).

The sages ask, "Where did they get this additional gold from? Hadn't they used it all up on the golden calf?"

The sages answer, "From the women, who had never given any of their gold for the idol in the first place, and from the special gold the men had not relinquished."

There was a fine gold, the sages tell us, that the men kept wrapped in a cloth in their bosom pocket. This gold they would not give for the golden calf. They gave their ordinary gold, but they kept the fine gold near their hearts, and would not part with it. That gold remained available for building a sanctuary, a place for G‑d.

Ordinary gold represents our emotions, but the fine gold represents our innocence. Even if we violate the morality that was given to us by G‑d, and seem to lose our innocence, that loss can only go so deep. Deeper than that, our innocence, like the fine gold, remains intact, always available to us. And we need our innocence.

Without innocence we don't function properly. Our feelings of guilt and shame tear us apart. We're out of balance. A loss of innocence can ruin us because it's not how we were meant to be.

It's innocence we're looking for, innocence we need, and innocence we can have in our lives, when we allow healthy shame—humility, embarrassment, and guilt—to help us remember where our borders should be.