There is a story about a King who visits a small town. The people in the town want to honor him with a barrel of good wine, but there is not enough money in the town coffers to purchase a cask. So each person agrees to pour a bottle of his own wine into an empty cask in the town square.

Each night for a week, various individuals approach the cask. Each person thinks, “I have so little, the others will give wine, it won’t make a difference if I simply pour in a little bit of water.” Finally, at weeks end, each person has contributed his bottle’s worth. The visiting King is presented with the barrel of fine wine. He opens the barrel and, as he takes a drink, there is a strange expression on his face. He takes a second sip and then pours it on the ground. And it is apparent to everyone assembled that the barrel contains only water.

Yes, a little bit of guilt can be a beneficial thing. We can imagine the embarrassment we feel as we realize we have not given our all. We know what it feels like to punt, to post on Facebook instead of calling or visiting in person, to withhold our best when our best is called for.

How many times have we brought water when we should have brought wine? @TheRunningRabbi (Click to Tweet!)

But there is a difference between destructive and constructive guilt. Did we hurt a person’s feelings knowing full well that what we were doing is wrong? Did we allow our selves to justify an improper or even an immoral act in the name of truth or ignorance or progress for someone’s good? In other words are we feeling guilty because we actually are guilty?

Think about the times we did something we know we shouldn’t have done. Guilt tends to linger if it is not handled immediately. The more we delay in dealing with it, the more it eats away at us.

In the Jewish liturgy we confess, “Our God we have sinned. Forgive us because we had the courage to admit our wrongs and done our best to make amends.” But if we blame our faults on our parents or the past until we avoid taking responsibility for anything then we have offered only water when, with just a little more effort, we could have offered wine.

When we focus on the behavior we can change, on the good we can do and on the person we would like to become, then we can reach higher. If the guilt we feel awakens us to admit that we knowingly hurt others then our guilt will not have been in vain.

So don’t let the guilt consume you. Act now! Hirshel Jaffe, a four time cancer survivor, is a motivational/inspirational speaker on the theme NEVER GIVE UP! He authored “Why Me? Why Anyone?” which chronicles his rescue from leukemia and his spiritual triumph over despair. Known as “The Running Rabbi” for competing in the NY Marathon, he received the “Award of Courage” from President Ronald Reagan in a White House ceremony. Rabbi Jaffe was one of the clergy who visited the American hostages in Iran to offer them comfort and hope and was asked by the President to greet them at the White House upon their return. He received an honorary Doctorate from his seminary for “his work with the sick, and his noble influence upon all people. You can follow him on FB.

Image courtesy of Nao Triponez.