Tag Archives: mistakes

Doing Love

unworthyAaron was ashamed [and was reluctant to assume the position of High Priest] because of his role in the Golden Calf episode, and Moses said, “This is why you were selected.”

-Rashi, Leviticus 9:7

I was once asked to see a student nurse who was beside herself because she had made an error in medication. While this particular error was harmless, she felt that she lacked the competency to be a nurse, because she saw that she was capable of making even more serious errors.

I told the young woman that I did not know of anyone who can go through life without making any errors. Perfection belongs to God alone. If all nurses who became so upset because of a medication error would leave the field, the only ones who would remain would be those indifferent to making errors, and that would be the worst disservice to mankind.

We must try to do our very best at everything we do, particularly when it concerns others’ welfare. We must not be lax, negligent, nor reckless. We should of course be reasonably upset upon making a mistake and learn from such experiences how we might avoid repeating them. However, if in spite of our best efforts we commit errors as a result of our human fallibility, we should not give up. Allowing a mistake to totally shatter us would result in our not doing anything in order to avoid mistakes. This non-action would constitute the greatest mistake of all.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that the distress I feel upon making a mistake is a constructive feeling that can help me improve myself.

-Rabbi Abraham J Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Shevat 12”

No one wants to make a mistake. Certainly we all want to “get it right” the first time, whatever “it” happens to be. And when you are a person of faith, you particularly want to get moral and ethical stuff right all of the time.

It’s rather humbling when we do not. More than that, the rest of the world, both religious and non-religious people, seems to be just waiting for us to slip up so they can criticize us.

I suppose religious people are used to being put down by atheists because we’re “superstitious” or “irrational” or we’re “non-inclusive bigots” or something. However, some people of faith are no better, and tend to jump on other believers who have opinions and convictions that don’t line up with their own. You see this most often within Christianity from “Evangelical Fundamentalists” or whatever label is appropriate to use here…people who are uncompromising on matters of abortion or gay marriage (for example) and who only see the black-and-white of the issues and not the human beings involved. Christians say “love the sinner but hate the sin,” but truth be told, some Christian human beings often don’t know how to tell the difference so they hate them both.

If only we realized that we are just as capable of making mistakes as anyone else. It’s worse for us though, since we know that we are accountable to God for every word and deed we commit in our lives. One day, we’ll have to make an accounting. One day, we’ll have to face God! What the heck is wrong with us? Don’t we get it?

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Repent one day before your death.” His disciples asked him, “Does then one know on what day he will die?” “All the more reason he should repent today, lest he die tomorrow.”

-Shabbat 153a

But what is it to repent?

“It is told that once there was a wicked man who committed all kinds of sins. One day he asked a wise man to teach him an easy way to repent, and the latter said to him: ‘Refrain from telling lies.’ He went forth happily, thinking that he could follow the wise man’s advice, and still go on as before. When he decided to steal, as had been his custom, he reflected: ‘What will I do in case somebody asks me, “Where are you going?” If I tell the truth, “To steal,” I shall be arrested. If I tell a lie, I shall be violating the command of this wise man.’ In the same manner he reflected on all other sins, until he repented with a perfect repentance.”

-Rabbi Judah ben Asher, fourteenth century

love-in-lightsIs making a mistake the same as sinning? Sometimes I suppose, but as we saw in the example of the student nurse above, sometimes we just make mistakes. Even when someone gets hurt, it’s still a mistake and not a sin. But mistakes and sins have a few things in common. If we are morally adequate people, they both make us feel guilty and they both show us that we need to improve and change our ways.

Sin and repentance have been written about endlessly by people far wiser and more worthy than I, so what’s the point of me putting in my two cents? Nothing, I suppose, except for timing. There are times when we need to say such things and times when we need to hear them as well. We may not realize that it’s time and we may not seek out the information which would then inspire us to be convicted and (hopefully) to then transform. So I offer this to you just in case it’s your time. And if we are, as Rabbi Eliezer suggests, to repent today (lest we die tomorrow), then every day is our time.

There are parallel guidelines which are set to direct us in our life goals. On the one hand, we are encouraged and even obligated to state, “When will my actions be as those of our patriarchs?” In this regard we should feel that we can achieve the same levels as our ancestors. On the other hand, we must recognize that we are worlds apart from the lofty levels of our forefathers. In fact, it would be highly presumptuous to even think that we have the ability to match their accomplishments, as our Gemara reports. Even the greatest among us must acknowledge that compared to the personalities of the Torah, who were giants in character and sainted servants of Hashem, we are as mere humans as compared to angels. How are we to balance the approach we are to take in setting our goals and aspirations?

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“Great Asperations”
from the Commentary on Shabbos 112

We may never achieve a state of spirituality and holiness like those people we see in the Bible or those people of faith who we admire, but we can continue to seek God, and to seek His will, and to live the life he created us to live. At a very basic level, it’s really quite simple.

To love is to sigh at another’s sorrow, to rejoice at another’s good fortune. To love is the deepest of all pleasures.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“To Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Sometimes after a mistake or failure, the first person we need to learn to love is ourselves. That isn’t easy but we do have someone who can teach us. He’s the lover of our souls, and if anyone can see something inside of each of us that is worthy of love, it’s Him.

Go do like He does. Love who you are, then go love others for who they are.

Life Under Repair

Question: I’ve been enjoying the philosophy articles on Aish.com. The approach to life resonates with me much more than the Western style of consumerism and media hype. Regarding the obligatory nature of mitzvot, however, I think sometimes humans have to disregard the boundary and be disobedient against the command. It might be painful, but I believe you come away with a higher appreciation that God and His commands are ultimately correct. Do you agree with this thinking?

The Aish Rabbi Replies: You have touched on a deep truth, but ultimately your principle is mistaken. The Talmud states: “In a place where a reformed sinner stands, even a righteous tzaddik does not stand.” The idea is that after having erred, you can analyze your negative acts, learn from them, and use that knowledge as a foundation to motivate you further.

While all this seems to imply that it is better to make mistakes and then correct them, rather than never have made the mistake in the first place, that is not true.

Let’s take the mundane example of the rule: “Always look both ways before crossing the street.” There are two ways to learn this lesson: 1) Listen to the advice of teachers and parents to look both ways before crossing, or 2) cross recklessly, get hit by a car, and then while lying in the hospital acknowledge a lesson well-learned.

The problem in choosing the second path is that there is always a residual effect from our mistakes. A teenager who experiments with drugs may grow up to realize the dangers, but a lot of brain cells have been killed in the meantime.

“Intentional Mistakes”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series

(I almost didn’t post the first picture that appears in today’s “meditation” because of its provocative elements, but of all the similar images I found, this one came closest to communicating what I wanted to say.)

In a comment on Gene Shlomovich’s recent blog post How Jesus may have viewed conversion to Judaism, I mentioned how I corrected one of my mistakes:

To be fair, many non-Jewish “Messianics” were taught for years or even decades that there was “One Law for the native-born and the alien” and that information is well ingrained into their psyche and identity. Now that “the movement” has evolved and more accurate information is available relative to how the Bible defines the roles of “Messianic” Gentiles and Jews, it is very hard for some to surrender a status or role that they’ve become quite used to.

I remember when FFOZ (First Fruits of Zion) first announced that they had been wrong in supporting the One Law position and that they were correcting their teachings and organizational stance. I felt angry and betrayed and shot off a very pointed comment or two on Facebook in response. It was like being given an important and valuable gift and becoming comfortable with it, then having it suddenly ripped away.

I suppose I could have become one of those angry “deniers” and continued to “demand my right” to “Torah obligation,” but I started to think. FFOZ had financially just shot themselves in the foot. A large number of their constituents simply abandoned them, abruptly and significantly reducing their income. Why would they do that when in any practical sense, even if privately they’d come to the conclusion that One Law was unsustainable Biblically and theologically, they should have publicly maintained their OL position in order to make sure they survived as a ministry? Their decision only made sense if moral and spiritual honesty were more important to them than an income.

I became curious and started investigating. At about the same time, I started looking at my wife’s pursuit of her Jewish identity as an individual and as a member of the Jewish community through different eyes. Long story short, I realized that I had been wrong in my One Law assumptions and shifted my perceptual and theological paradigm accordingly.

But to say that it was difficult is a gross understatement. A lot of people aren’t capable of that kind of change. I even recently wrote about how difficult it is to “share Abraham” so to speak, and accept that only certain blessings are passed down to the nations (Christians) through Israel. Exchanging self-entitlement for a more mature reality is very hard and not everyone is going to accept it.

Frankly, and not to necessarily contradict the Aish rabbi from whom I quoted above, I don’t see how some mistakes can be avoided. I mean, we all make mistakes. Some are actually part of the human developmental learning process. Take walking for example. When a small child is first learning how to stand and walk, the child falls a lot. Falling isn’t a mistake at this stage of development, it’s a requirement and it’s perfectly normal and expected. No small child has ever (to the best of my knowledge) spontaneously stood and walked with absolute precision on the very first try, and never fell back to the floor. Everybody falls the first time, or the first dozen times, or the first few hundred times.

I think trying to understand God and trying to understand who we are in God is like learning how to stand and walk. We get a lot of things wrong at first, but that’s to be expected. Just conceptualizing the existence of God is tremendously difficult, and integrating faith, trust, hope, and spirituality into a daily lifestyle can escape even some of the best of us. I would hardly expect anyone to become “good at it” right off the bat. In fact, most of us never get really “good at it.” We continue to struggle, to learn, and we periodically fall flat on our faces.

That’s how I’d characterize my own spiritual development, anyway. I suspect that if we were all honest with ourselves and everyone else, every person of faith would admit to the same thing. Only pride keeps us from doing so. We’re afraid of looking foolish. We’re afraid of what other people will say. We’re afraid of just letting go of all that and, like a little child, accepting what God has given us from His abundant store of gifts.

For seven days of Sukkot, Jews walk around in circles, carrying an assortment of green and yellow flora. Then, on Simchat Torah, they dance in circles carrying Hebrew scrolls, working up to a frenzy.

Did I say dance? Well, it’s more like marching, your hands over the next guy’s shoulders, singing and stomping as you march to . . . the same place you started from. Repeat until you plotz. (Yiddish: collapse)

Now for my confession…

When I was first invited, cajoled and nudniked to join the circular festivities, I was more than hesitant. I attempted to explain that I didn’t see the point of walking in such a way that you don’t get any further than where you started. Needless to say, the argument was ignored, and I was swept into the circle whether I liked it or not.

And I felt stupid. For about the first 40,000 circuits. After that, I forgot about myself and how I felt and what I was doing and why I was doing it and whether I was stupid and that I was there at all. And that’s when the circle became good. Very good.

It was good exactly due to that which I had subliminally feared. Because as I stand here, I am I. In the circle, that I dissolves into we. And in that very act of transcendence, that loss of self, there is unbounded joy.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Why Jews Dance in Circles”
Commentary on Sukkot and Simchat Torah

While being embarrassed and feeling foolish (and avoiding joy) aren’t exactly mistakes, these are experiences that, if we allow them to, will prevent us from correcting mistakes and lead us into a lifestyle based on error and fear. In fact, many people try so hard to avoid embarrassment, foolishness, and the tremendous effort that change requires once it’s discovered, that they live in self-denial, never even permitting themselves to realize that what they are living is a mistake. That is why so many people (and I know atheists must think this about religious people) can “stand their ground” and “stand up for their rights” with total conviction of purpose, and still be dead wrong.

But remember, even in the lesson we learned from the Aish Rabbi, it’s only a mitzvah if we realize we made a mistake and corrected it. And, remember as well that it would have been better to never have made the mistake in the first place.

We can’t avoid making a mistake. We fall so that we can learn to pick ourselves up. Although mistakes are regrettable, they are also part and parcel of the human experience. Falling down is an obvious mistake when our intention was to walk. Many human mistakes are far more subtle and even when we want to be honest, it can be difficult to see past our own assumptions, prejudices, and pride.

To conquer even our unintentional and unconscious errors, we must learn to question everything about ourselves. Why do I believe in such-and-thus? Is it because I grew up believing this? Did someone teach me this belief when I was cognitively or spiritually immature? Examining the same information now that I am more educated, more mature, and more stable, will I reach the same conclusions that I did before?

These are all very dangerous questions and they can make us feel extremely insecure in areas that are absolutely the foundation of our existence. You don’t have to question your faith in God, but you do have to question what that faith means and how it is to be expressed. While people can change, most people don’t once they arrive at a certain comfortable plateau. The trick is never to completely rest on that plateau. It’s not your destination. Keep climbing, even if you feel uncomfortable, even if you feel nervous or foolish. The truth is always one level higher than you’ve ascended so far.

Or like Rabbi Freeman, after dancing in pointless circles the first 40,000 times or so, eventually, you’ll see that pursuing the joy of God is more important than how you feel or what you look like to others. Fixing mistakes and repairing your life is a mitzvah. So is longing for God. The two go hand in hand.

Climb. Dance.


Repairing the Turbulent Suffix

A certain sofer wrote a sefer Torah and was checking it over carefully for any possible errors, when he finally found one…Although with most errors he would only have to erase the problem and rewrite, he was unsure whether he could do so in this case. As is well known, it is forbidden to erase the Name of Hashem. In this case, the problem was not the name per se, but the suffix… Since he did not want to rewrite the entire amud, he wanted to fix the error but only if this was permitted by the halachah.

When this question reached the Taz, he ruled that the sofer could not erase the suffix…It is obvious to me that it is forbidden to erase a suffix to one of the Divine Names. Here is the proof: although we find in Maseches Sofrim that if a drop of ink fell on one of the Divine Names it is permitted to erase the ink in order to correct the blot, the Mordechai explains that this may only be permitted if letter wasn’t yet formed properly. However, if ink fell on a complete Name it would be forbidden to erase the ink. Similarly, if the letter were accidentally connected this would also be forbidden and the same is true regarding a suffix.”

When the Chut Hameshulash saw this response, he presented a different view, however. “In my opinion, although the Beis Yosef brings this Mordechai and it is l’halachah, there is room for leniency regarding a suffix. The proof to this is from Menachos 48. There we find that Rav Yochanan asks if we may do a sin in order to gain something with regard to sacrifices. From the Rambam there it is clear that we hold like the opinion of Rav Yochanan.

He concluded, “Since rectifying the shem Hashem is like saving a sacrifice, it is clear that in this case we may erase to rectify, especially since erasing a suffix is only a rabbinic prohibition.”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Erasing to Rectify”
Siman 143 Seif 4(a)

I know that the information imparted in the quote above won’t make a great deal of sense to most Christians and probably even to a good many non-Jews in the “Messianic” movement. However the halacha that relates to the creation of a sefer Torah or Torah scroll is extremely specific if, for no other reason, than to avoid violating the commandment not to take the Name of God lightly or in vain (Exodus 20:7). I’m not going to attempt to provide a commentary on the ruling in this Daf, but I do want to use it as a metaphor.

A few days ago, I created a blog post called Debating Fulfillment Theology for the purpose of inviting polite debate regarding the pros and cons of the Christian theology that states the grace of Christ has wholly replaced the law of Moses. Even under the best of circumstances (and the debate is continuing as I write this “mediation,” so you are free to join it if you haven’t done so already), such dialogues rarely arrive at a unified conclusion. That is, I don’t expect that those who support fulfillment or replacement theology will “repent” and agree that it is a dangerous and unsupportable position, nor to I expect that those who disagree with replacement theology will eventually agree that the Jews must surrender their dedication to Torah and God and submit to the grace of Jesus Christ in a manner that completely denies Jews and Judaism (and I’m sure you can detect my bias based on how I worded that last sentence).

My goal for the debate is to engage in and encourage open, honest discourse with the hope of not resolving this conflict, but presenting alternate points of view. I am disturbed that the church sees replacement theology or supersessionism (though sometimes more politely cloaked as “fulfillment theology”) as concrete fact and the only possible way that the New Testament scriptures can be understood. After all, New Testament scholars have been debating for centuries (and continue to debate today) over the meaning of many portions of Paul’s letters and some of the more “difficult sayings of Jesus.” If a certain amount of scholarly disagreement remains in these interpretations, how can Christianity as a whole believe that replacement theology is such a “done deal?”

In quoting part of the Daf for Siman 143 Seif 4(a), I want to introduce an idea. I’ll use myself as an example (and I’ll try to keep this as short as possible and still form a complete picture). I was an agnostic/atheist until my early 40s as was my Jewish wife. Then I came to faith in Christ in a local Nazarene church (long story). My family and I attended for some time, but we found that many of our questions about God and Jesus weren’t being answered, especially as they related to the Jewish people.

My wife came into contact with a “Messianic/One Law” group in our community and she was immediately “hooked” (it took me a little longer to warm up to this sudden change in perspective). She strongly suggested that I attend with her and eventually, my family and I shifted our worship context from the Nazarene church to the One Law congregation. Years passed and many transitions took place. Eventually, we left the One Law congregation, and then my wife went back while the children and I attended the local Reform synagogue (another long story). Then my wife left One Law and joined the Reform shul, while I eventually went back to One Law and stayed for a number of years, proceeding from attendee to board member and teacher.

I was happy there for a time but my wife continued to explore her Judaism with the Reform synagogue and later with the Chabad and for the first time in almost 20 years of being together, we became a “mixed marriage”. My wife now identifies with the traditional Jewish community and is not “Christian” or “Messianic” in any sense.

As I watched my wife explore what it was and is for her to be a Jew within a cultural, ethnic and religious Jewish context, the basic tenants of the One Law movement seemed so discordant with what I was discovering (through my wife’s eyes) is actually Judaism (most One Law groups refer to themselves corporately as “Messianic Judaism” thus identifying themselves as a “Judaism”, even if the majority of their leaders and members are not Jews). Questions about assumptions I had made years before started coming to me and I entered into a year long investigation of who I was and what I was doing in my walk of faith (if you like reading a lot, that entire year is chronicled on my now defunct blog, Searching for Light on the Path).

Finally, I did what most religious people (or even what most people in general) don’t do. I changed my perspective, my theology, and my approach to being a disciple of the Master. In essence, I repaired what I saw as a damaged “suffix” in my understanding of God. That required great sacrifices on my part and I entered into more than one serious “crisis of faith” which resulted in quite of bit of emotional distress. These crises resolved into a new framework, the one from which I am now operating on this blog. I still take “heck” occasionally from people who don’t agree with my decision, however it’s a decision I found necessary to make for me and my relationship with God.

Why am I telling you all this and why should you care?

People can change. It’s not easy and it’s not common, but it’s possible. People can make significant and even extraordinary shifts in their theological perspectives if presented with enough evidence, but evidence is not enough. It takes the ability to admit that you can be wrong (not that God can be wrong, which would amount to actually erasing the Name of Hashem) and the courage to make changes (fix the suffix) once that admission has occurred.

No one likes change which is why a couple who is planning their wedding is stressed to the max, even though getting married is what they want to do more than anything. Any change creates stress and crisis, especially if it involves making major alterations to fundamental emotional, cognitive, and spiritual structures such as how you comprehend your trust and faith in God.

That means it is possible, however unlikely, that someone might really change as a result of this conversation. OK, I’m not holding my breath, but I am making a suggestion. As we see from the Daf above, change and correction of perceived flaws is not easy and there are times when it is necessary and times when it isn’t. Changes should be made with the utmost care and only after a great deal of deliberation, prayer, and consultation with trusted advisers.

But if change weren’t possible, no one would become a Christian in the first place, since no one is born into that state, not even people who are raised in a Christian family.

Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman recently made a comment on the aforementioned blog post that speaks to what I’m trying to express:

Scripture is scripture, but quoting a verse in or out of context says what the scripture says, but doesn’t tell us what you think it means. If you are going to quote scripture you have not achieved your goal until you tell us what YOU think it means. What you think it means is actually what you are basing your argument upon, so just say what you think it means or you have proven nothing.

Scripture is Scripture and the Bible is the Bible. It exists. It says what it says. But what does it mean? That depends on how we interpret it and what that interpretation means in our lives. Not everyone relates to the Bible and to God in the same way based on how we interpret the scriptures and how we interpret who we are. When presented with the challenges and crises in our life of faith and understanding, we need to keep going, no matter what the obstacles and no matter what the cost, even if the cost is that we must change or be forced to admit that we will always live a life at odds with God and in conflict with His Word.

On their exodus from Egypt, towards Mount Sinai, the Jewish people arrived at an obstacle – the Red Sea.

They divided into four parties.

One advocated mass suicide.

One said to surrender and return.

One prepared to fight.

One began to pray.

G-d spoke to Moses and said, “Why are you crying out to Me? I told you to travel straight ahead. Keep going and you will see there is no obstacle!”

The Jewish people kept going
and the obstacle became a miracle.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Keep Going”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Keep going. Like Nachshon, plunge into the turbulent seas. When you find them, you can fix mistakes. Miracles are possible.

My God, guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking deceitfully. And to those who curse me, let my soul be silent and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments.

-from the Elohai N’tzor