The Torah in Parashat Bereishit tells that when Adam and Chava were first created, before they partook of the forbidden fruit, they were unclothed, yet “lo yitboshashu” – they would not feel ashamed (2:25).
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, commenting to this verse, discusses the etymology of the root b.o.sh., which is used in reference to shame and embarrassment. He suggests that a connection exists between this root and the verb b.sh.sh., which means “tarry,” or, more specifically, not arriving when expected, as in Moshe’s delayed return from atop Mount Sinai – “ki bosheish Moshe la-redet min ha-har” (Shemot 32:1). Rav Hirsch explains that the root b.o.sh., which denotes shame, refers to feeling disappointed in oneself, the awareness of having failed to meet one’s own expectations. Shame, Rav Hirsch writes, “is the feeling of one who has fallen short, has not come up to his expectations of himself. When someone has not attained that which he should be, finds that he is not what he ought to be, then he feels ashamed of himself.” The words for “shame” and “unexpected delay” are etymologically linked, Rav Hirsch suggests, because shame is precisely the recognition of one’s failure to meet his expectations of himself.
Rav Hirsch proceeds to reflect upon the significance of this emotion:
This feeling that God has implanted in Man, which at once comes over him when he becomes conscious of his shortcoming, is the greatest gift which the Grace of God has given mankind of whom He probably knew quite well that he would often not come up to what he was meant to be. Through it, Man becomes his own monitor and guardian… Thus God has entrusted every man to himself, has implanted in every man the ideal by which to judge himself. The consciousness of this ideal is what we call conscience, and the condemning verdict of one’s conscience is b.o.sh.: shame.
The experience of shame, in Rav Hirsch’s view, reflects our having been created with an intuitive sense of self-expectation. God implanted within a person a natural desire to achieve and to meet certain standards, and so we feel shame and embarrassment when we fail. These feelings should not dishearten or discourage us, but should rather be celebrated as a precious gift, a priceless asset which constantly spurs us to grow, improve and achieve, and to work towards maximizing our potential and accomplishing all that we have been brought into the world to accomplish.