-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.”
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
Is 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
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
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.