Accountability and Shame

Eikev, this week’s Torah portion, starts off with God’s blessings of obedience. From there it goes on to giving directions for taking the land, the incident of the Golden Calf, Aaron’s death, the Levites’ duties, and closes with exhortations to serve God. While most of the book Deuteronomy is just repeating older content, but here it is clear that the Golden Calf situation happened in Ki Tisa, here Moshe is just recalling their misdeeds. From their worship of the Golden Calf, the rebellion of Korach, the sin of the spies, their angering of God at Taveirah, Massah and Kivrot Hataavah (“The Graves of Lust”). Moshe seems to be rubbing their nose in it. “You have been rebellious against G‑d,” he says to them, “since the day I knew you.” Why us Moshe reminding them of their errant ways?

This question gets more interesting for the Rambam in his Mishnah Torah Laws if Teshuvah. Rambam explains that Baalei teshuvah tend to be humble and modest. If foolish people shame them because of their previous sins by reminding them of their former deeds, they will pay them no mind. Just the opposite, they will rejoice because they know that overcoming these things is a source of merit for them. When a baal teshuvah is embarrassed because of his former deeds, his merit increases and his level is elevated. It is absolutely sinful to remind a baal teshuvah of their former deeds or to recount them in their presence in order to embarrass them. It is even prohibited to discuss the situation vaguely in order to cause them to recall their sins. This is a form of verbal oppression, which the Torah forbids, saying, “Do not wrong one another” (Leviticus 25:17). (Teshuvah 7:8)

So, why would Moshe remind them of their sins? I am not sure I have a good answer, but I know this speaks to an issue we are struggling with in society today. How do we keep people accountable without resorting to shame? Shame is arresting and makes it hard to do anything. But removal of all shame seems to lead to no accountability. We need to thread this needle for Moshe and for us today if we hope to lead ourselves out of the wilderness.

0 Responses to “Accountability and Shame”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 237 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: