You've heard of a 'Cosmetologist.' A cosmetologist is someone who
studies and applies various beauty treatments. And you've heard of a
'Psychologist.' A psychologist is someone who studies the human mind and
human behavior. A 'Zoologist'
is a biological scientist who studies animals
Have you ever heard of an 'Excusiologist'?
An Excusiologist is someone who is proficient at
shifting the blame to anyone or anything other than himself. Young or
old, all of us are born with tremendous potential to be an Excusiologist.
An expert Excusiologist, despite the weight of
obvious evidence, will still be able to say those four little
words: It's not my fault.
The story is told about a mother who heard the family cat yowl in
pain. Mom knew where to look: her young son Moishe. "Moishe,"
she called out, "stop pulling the
Little Moishe replied, "Mom, I'm not pulling his
tail. I'm just standing on it. He's doing the pulling."
Remember comedian Flip
Wilson? One of my favorite Flip Wilson
characters was Geraldine. Geraldine never did anything wrong. Her signature line was 'The devil made me do it!'
Many politicians, athletes, actors, coworkers, family members -- even, perhaps,
the person reading this -- are expert Excusiologists.
you might acknowledge that this is human nature,
you may be asking yourselves: "What does this have to do with Rosh Hashana ?
I thought that Rosh Hashana is Yom HaDin -- the Day of Judgement
-- when G-d opens His books and does some accounting?
" Rosh Hashana is also a
day -- you might say to yourself -- that we coronate G-d as King and declare
our loyalty to Him.
. But often
overlooked is that Rosh Hashana is the
first of the Aseres
Y'mai Tshuva --
The Ten Days of Repentance. It begins the period of time we're
supposed to focus on changing our ways, expressing regret for the mistakes
we've made throughout the year, and to beg G-d for forgiveness and
atonement. Tshuva (returning
to G-d) should, in theory be so easy! All we have to do is
admit our mistakes, feel regret, and resolve not to repeat them again.
Ah, but therein lies the challenge;
admitting our mistakes. It might sound easy to fess up to our
transgressions. But that's where the Excusiologist
in all of us rises to the occasion to blame our problems on something or
someone else. One of the greatest living Excusiologists
is a former college and pro football star who
you may have heard of: O.J.
Simpson. Simpson once
said, 'The day you stop making excuses, is the day you start to the
top.' Yes, Simpson actually said that. And today, of
course, O.J. is on the bottom -- in a Nevada prison serving at
least nine years for robbing, kidnapping and a number of other felonies.
Excusiology -- the inability to admit our guilt
-- has been around for a long time, and things haven't changed very much
over the past 5,770 years.
usually say that the sin of Adam and Eve was because they disobeyed G-d's instructions not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of
Knowledge. But on closer analysis, they weren't punished immediately after
their colossal mistake. G-d engaged Adam in conversation, giving him the
opportunity to admit what he did. Adam didn't accept this
opportunity. Instead he said, "the
woman who you gave to me - she gave me of the tree and I ate."
Adam avoided responsibility for his sin, shifting it onto Eve.
Then G-d turned to
Eve, also giving her a chance to repent - she too declined the offer, saying, “the serpent deceived me and I ate.” Only then did G-d punish
them for the sin. It is clear that had they taken responsibility for their
actions when G-d confronted them, then surely the punishment would have been
far lighter. Who knows how different the course of history might have
And incredibly, Adam even blamed G-d for his mistake. He said,
'The woman you gave me caused me to eat. Talk about being an Excusiologist!
reminds me of the story of the man who was on a strict weight loss
program. One morning he unfortunately gave into temptation and bought
donuts at the bakery. When asked why he cheated on his diet, he said it
was G-d's fault for opening up a parking space right
in front of the bakery as he drove by.
all else fails, the Excusiologist blames G-d.
You're familiar with the Biblical story of Cain
and Abel. After Cain killed his brother G-d didn't punish him instantly,
but engaged him in conversation asking, 'where is Abel your brother?'
answer was, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' The Midrash further elaborates upon this
reply. Cain said, “G-d, You are the
protector of all life, and You are asking me?! I killed him but You gave me the evil inclination to do so. You are
supposed to protect everyone and You let me kill him,
You are the one that killed him. Had You
accepted my offering like his, I would not have been jealous of him.”
are many factors to which we can dismiss our flaws and mistakes; whether it be the way we were raised, our
natural inclinations, society, or even G-d Himself. The fact is, most of us find it extremely hard to accept ultimate
responsibility for our failings.
Will Rogers once said that the history of North
America would be written in three stages: The passing of the
Indian, the passing of the buffalo, and the passing of the buck.
the buck makes it almost impossible to do tshuva.
We live in a
society that shuns the concept of responsibility. Many highly educated
people claim that no one can be held accountable for his behavior. Their
argument posits that the person we become is predestined based upon background,
upbringing, genetics and society. In effect, they argue, man does not
have free will. The extension of this idea is that criminals can be
excused of their crimes upon the basis that they have no choice in the matter, and
that failings in character are unavoidable. The Torah outlook strongly
rejects this view. Judaism teaches that if a person is brave enough to
admit that he can do better, then G-d will surely help him to do so.
patriarch Jacob had twelve sons, each of which were supremely
great men. However it was Judah who was chosen to be the one from whom
the kings of Israel
would come, and from whom, ultimately, the messiah
would emerge. What was special about Judah above and beyond his eleven
The Talmud states that Judah's
selection for greatness was because he admitted to his actions in an incident
with Tamar, his daughter-in-law. Tamar was about to be killed for her
alleged act of adultery. However, Tamar gave Judah a chance to admit his part in
the incident. He could have easily remained silent, thereby sentencing
three souls to death -- Tamar and the twins she was carrying inside her.
However, in a defining moment in history, Judah bravely accepted
accountability, saying, "she is right, it is from me."
coincidental that this was the key moment in producing the seed of the messiah
and the messianic era we hope for. The messiah will bring humanity to it's pure state, correcting the sin of Adam and Eve.
As we saw, the main flaw present in Adam's sin was an inability to accept
responsibility for mistakes. Therefore Judah's success in taking
responsibility for his actions when he said "I did it" was an ideal
There's a story told
about two men who worked together in a warehouse. Every noon they sat on
the dock and ate their lunches. Joe would always open his lunch box,
remove a sandwich and look at it to see what kind it was. If it was
peanut butter he threw it away. Any other kind he always
ate. One day his friend Ed asked, "Joe, how long have you been
been married twelve years and your wife still doesn't know you don't like
back, "Ed, you leave my wife out of this. I make my own
We have to take responsibility for our own happiness. And
if we want to do tshuva between now and Yom Kippur, we have to
take responsibility for our actions. Let's abandon the 'dog ate my
homework' excuses this year. Let's leave aside the tired old
rationalizations of " I can't lose weight.
I just can't get myself to exercise. I was too tired to get up for minyan. I don't have time to study Torah, or attend
synagogue." Let's stop playing the blame game, passing the buck, and
saying that the things we need and want to accomplish are too hard.
This Rosh Hashana let's retire our titles as Excusiologists ....and begin to imagine what a productive,
enjoyable and meaningful year we're going to have.
With thanks to Rabbi Yehonason Gefen for many of the
Torah insights contained in this essay