Brazenness vs. Bashfulness

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22 Sep 2020
Yom Kippur

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Every year at this time we focus not only on doing teshuvah, repenting for sins we have committed, but also on on improving the character flaws that led us to transgress. Let us today focus on those sins caused by einiyim ramot/haughty eyes and by azut metzach/brazenness. Rabbi Meislish explains that these characteristics refer to one’s attitude both toward God and toward others greater than himself, such as rabbis, teachers and parents. In the era immediately preceding the arrival of Moshiach, the Gemorra Sota notes that the generation would have deteriorated to a state where sons and daughters display complete insolence toward their parents, the government will turn to heresy and there will be no rebuke, those who dread sin will be despised, and truth will be absent. These are indeed frightening times when we have no one to turn to except to our Creator.

An arrogant, brazen man is shameless. As such, he invites many sins and arguments, is disrespectful of others, and, as Pirkei Avos notes, is headed for Gehinom, writes the Orchot Tzadikkim. In a similar vein, Rav Dessler explains why the exile after the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdosh was only seventy years long while our current exile continues for nearly 2,000 years. The First Temple was destroyed for our sins of immorality, idolatry and bloodshed. These sins are more easily remedied than sins caused by an innate character flaw. In contrast, the Second Temple was destroyed for our sin of baseless hatred. Baseless hatred is not the antagonism one feels toward someone who is causing him injury or preventing his success. This hatred is for the very fact of the other’s being, of the fact of his mere existence.

Baseless hatred is the characteristic of Edom/Esau, actualized through his grandson Amalek. For this kind of hatred there is no easy cure. It is irrational and the product of one’s imagination, and it manifests itself in arrogance and insolence to all that fall outside the confines his personal ego has established. The embodiment of this evil eventually destroys itself, but in the interim, it destroys peace and security, it leads to despair, and finally to the realization that technology and materialism will not save us, that we can rely only on the spiritual, that which Amalek works so hard to destroy. Science and technology feed man’s arrogance, leading man to falsely believe that he is in control. We need some humility, for we are not in control.

Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein explains that even yeshivah bochurim are guilty of arrogance. The young man forms an opinion and, because it is his, believes it to be correct. Then he goes to his Rebbe and asks for the Rebbe’s approval and approbation, rather than first asking for advice in advance. After all, if I feel myself to be as wise as that Rabbi, why should I let him tell me what to do? “…For the sin of brazenness.”

When this attitude infects the general public, continues Rabbi Levenstein, society will break down and anarchy will prevail, for each person will feel he has the right to do and say whatever he feels, and he needn’t conform to anything someone else says or feels.

Arrogance and brazenness leave no room for shame, and shame, notes the Talmud, is an inherently Jewish characteristic. It is a vital and positive character trait, for it prevents us from sinning, while arrogance, writes the Orchot Tzadikkim, prevents us from acknowledging even the possibility of our having sinned.

However, boldness is not all bad. Rabbi Judah ben Tema advises us in Pirkei Avot to be bold as a leopard. Rabbi Irving Bunim elaborates and explains that if one knows how and when to be bold, boldness is a positive trait. Nonetheless, our primary persona should be one of shame and humility. Shame is one of the three characteristics that define a descendent of Avraham Avinu, for of all God’s creatures, only mankind can experience shame. It shows on his face. As a child sees the faces of others, he begins to realize that his own face, his own “forehead” will reveal his emotions. That shame actually appears on his face is one incentive to refrain from sinning initially and to do teshuvah if one has indeed transgressed. Both arrogance and shame are visible on one’s face. Every time we sin, we act in arrogance to Hashem’s presence before Whom we stand.

While Western culture considers shame a negative emotion, Judaism considers it be a necessary component of the Jewish soul, so much so that one who has no shame is viewed as one whose ancestors could not have stood at Sinai and who trembled at God’s voice, write Rabbi and Dr. Pelcovitz in Step by Step. After all, it is shame that acts as a barrier and prevents our sinning.

Bushah/Shame is related to boshesh/delay/hesitate, continues Rabbi Pelcovitz. It is the word used for when Moshe’s return from atop Sinai was delayed, and when Sisera’s mother wondered about the delay of her son. It is also related to yavesh/dry, indicating a break in the expected flow of action. “A healthy level of self-consciousness makes us painfully aware of our vulnerabilities – and our responsibilities.” Shame makes us pause before we act. Shame is the feeling of smallness, of wanting to hide for not living and acting in accordance with one’s true, inner essence. Shame brings remorse and growth.

However, there are time when one must overcome shame, continue Rabbi Raphael and Dr. David Pelcovitz. One cannot be too timid if one wants to learn. Nor should one be ashamed to observe mitzvoth even in strange situations. Shame should be an integral part of one’s being, not a matter of appearances. This was the difference between Shem and Yafet. When Ham’s son told them how Noah had disgraced himself by lying naked in the tent, Shem went in to cover his father because that condition was shameful for Noah even if no one else saw him. Yafet, on the other hand, was upset at the appearance of impropriety, that it could be revealed outside. Man must be guided by that which is intrinsically right, ethical and proper, not by appearances. Ethics must be taught to be internalized, not to make an impression on the neighbors. Shame must be developed even in private settings as a braking mechanism to stop and think before doing any actions that would not conform to one’s innermost ethical values.

An egotist will find it hard to do teshuvah, writes Rebbetzin Felbrand in Humility as an Aid to Teshuvah. The egotist will find no fault within himself, justifying his failures by attributing them to other people or to circumstances. His haughtiness prepares him for sin, for the arrogant person cares for nothing beyond himself. His brazenness shows on his face as azut metzach/boldnes of the forehead.

Besides signifying brazenness in humans, azut can also refer to an aiz/goat. In the Temple period, it was a goat sacrifice that would be offered as a sin offering to counter the azut panim/boldfacedness that leads to sin, writes Rabbi Eisenberger in Mesillot Haneviim. It is brazenness that leads one to act against societal norms. It is shame and humility that leads one to enter shul unobtrusively when arriving late. Headed toward Gehinom is a natural outcome for the brazen and boldfaced.

Since each human being is a microcosm of the world and carries within him the traits of all animals, we each have the boldness of the leopard within us, and we must use boldness too in ways that enhance our Torah observance. The negative boldness, represented by Esau is visibly manifested in his hairy, furlike skin. When Rivkah tells Yaakov to bring her two good seirei izim/hairy goats to prepare and bring to Yaakov to receive the blessings, she is teaching Yaakov that boldness can be used in a positive, good way, not just in Esau’s way. Similarly, continues Rabbi Eisenberger, Yosef’s brothers, although mistaken, used the blood of a goat to imply that Yosef had been killed by a wild beast rather than sold. The brothers acted on the false assumption that Yosef was boldly and brazenly attempting to wrest the monarchy from the intended royal tribe, Yehudah. They felt the blood of the aiz/goat would atone for Yosef’s azut/brazenness.

At the center of the Temple’s Yom Kippur Service was the dual mission of the two goats the High Priest took. Through lots, one was selected to be sacrificed on the altar while the other one was sent to a desolate plate where another priest would kill the goat by throwing it off a cliff. Every sin we do has a manifestation of brazenness. Let us transform that boldness into a sacrifice for Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Not only brazenness, but also kedushah/holiness can be recognized on an individual’s visage. [My mother a”h would say that a certain individual, a Rebbe or tzadik, had hadras panim/a glorious face, shining with a sacred quality. CKS] This sacred light was visible on Moshe Rabbenu’s face, but after Bnei Yisroel sinned, they could no longer bear to gaze upon it. Their shame prompted Bnei Yisroel to ask Moshe to wear a mask when talking to them. But that shame, an acknowledgment of sin, is also the key and the hope of repair and return to the previous, sinless state.

But that repair can only be accomplished when one takes personal responsibility for his choices and actions. Rabbi Brazile recounts the aggadah about Rav Elazar ben Dudai who, after having sinned egregiously, tried to change the decree against him by blaming his parents, his environment, and even his wealth. When none of these were effective, Rav Elazar finally put his head between his knees and sobbed uncontrollably, realizing that his actions, whatever circumstances surrounded him, were still his choice. When he finally took personal responsibility, Hashem forgave him.

On Yom Kippur, we precede the recitation of our viduy/confession by acknowledging that “we are not so brazen and obstinate as to say… that we are righteous and have not sinned. Aval/but we and our fathers have sinned.” It is that very word, aval/but, teaches us Rabbi Brazile, that is the basis of our inability to do proper teshuvah. Aval gives us justification for our transgressions, allows us to say, “But it was not my fault.” This is pure brazenness. Hashem has given us these parents and all these other blessings for our benefit, and now we blame Hashem for giving us these blessings? [What was the greater part of Adam’s sin? The brazenness in blaming Hashem for giving him a wife who then gave him the forbidden fruit. CKS]

It is important to remember that a sense of shame is proof of our being spiritually alive, writes Rabbi Biderman in Ohel Moshe. Shame helps keep us vigilant so that we don’t become accustomed to sin, to feeling sin is not a problem. But that sense of shame must not be limited to outward appearances. It must be internalized so that we take responsibility for our transgressions, so that we can break down the arrogant world of Esau and destroy the underlying cause of this extended exile at the hands of Edom/Esau/Rome.

May this year be a year of personal, communal and national redemption.

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