Admitting Our Mistakes
Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5 )
It's easy to make mistakes. Everybody does. What's not so easy is to admit having made them. Often we fear that others will look down on us if they find out we did something wrong, so we try to cover up and deny our mistakes.
In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the special ceremonies that the Jewish people would perform when they discovered that they had done something wrong that had unjustly caused harm. They would publicly admit what they had done and ask God for forgiveness.
And not only would the common people do this, but even the nation's most respected leaders, such as the High Priest, the members of the Supreme Court and even the King! We learn from here the valuable lesson that being able to own up and admit that we're not perfect isn't a sign of weakness but rather one of great courage and strength that will earn us much more respect than denying our mistakes ever will.
In our story a boy admits a mistake and earns a lot of respect.
It was super nice spring vacation day and a small group of young boys were having fun kicking around a soccer ball in the neighborhood park.
"Hey Billy, toss me the ball!" squealed one boy. But as Billy reached back to throw it, he felt the ball being snatched out of his hands. Looking up he saw that two bigger boys had arrived. Billy and his friends had been so caught up in their game they hadn't even noticed them coming.
Jeff, the boy who had grabbed the ball away from Billy, smirked at his friend and suddenly drop-kicked the ball all the way to the far end of the park where it rolled under some playground equipment. "Beat it!" he said looking down at the shocked younger boys. "This is our field now whether you like it or not," he added with a sneer.
Realizing they had no choice, the younger boys brought their game to an early end and dejectedly walked away to retrieve their ball. Jeff smiled toward his friend, Dave. But he was surprised when Dave didn't return his smile. "Why did you have to kick out those little kids?" he asked. "They weren't bothering us. You really made them feel bad."
Jeff swallowed. He realized what he had done was wrong but he felt embarrassed to admit it. With a defiant flip of the head, he said. "So what? They had it coming. I just taught them a little respect for their 'elders.' C'mon, let's play ball already," he added, tossing the baseball high in the air.
Dave caught it and as the friends got into their game, the incident was soon forgotten.
A couple of days later the younger kids returned to the park. Seeing it was empty, they began their game. But sure enough not much later, they noticed the bigger kids heading their way. "Here we go again," sighed Billy. They took their ball and started to leave.
"Hey, wait a minute," called out Jeff.
"What does that dumb bully want now?" thought Billy as he turned around slowly. But he was surprised to see that this time Jeff had a friendly, almost sheepish look on his face.
"You guys don't have to go anywhere," he said. There's plenty of room for all of us to play."
Noticing the kids confused looks, Jeff continued. "I was wrong the other day when I made you leave -- I'm sorry."
With a sigh of relief Billy and his friends returned to their game. They were careful to stay on one side of the field so they would be out of their way.
As the older boys started their game, Dave said to Jeff, "Now that you showed them you were brave enough to admit you were wrong, these kids really respect their 'elders.'"
Q. How did Jeff feel after his friend told him it was wrong to have chased the younger kids away?
A. He felt sorry that he did it, but he was afraid to admit that he did anything wrong.
Q. If we make a mistake, should we admit it, or try to cover it up and pretend we didn't?
A. We should admit when we make a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, nobody's perfect.
Q. When Jeff's friend Dave pointed out to him that it was wrong to have kicked out the younger children, Jeff realized that he had made a mistake. Why then do you think that he tried to deny that he had done anything wrong?
A. Jeff knew he had done wrong, but he was afraid to admit it. He felt that if he did it would be a sign of weakness, and his friend, as well as the younger boys, would think less of him. But, in the end, when he did admit his mistake it only made those around him think better of him.
Q. Who would you respect more: somebody who is always able to think of an excuse to defend his actions and show why he was right, or someone who readily admits when he makes a mistake that he has done something wrong? Why?
A. It may at first seem like a sign of strength and courage to strongly defend everything we do. But often it's just the opposite. Real courage consists of being dedicated to the truth and being willing to concede when we've made a mistake. This is a high level of courage and worthy of much respect.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. The Sages teach us that one who makes a mistake or does something wrong, yet admits his error and corrects his ways, is considered on a spiritually higher level even than someone who never erred in the first place. How do you understand this? Do you agree?
A. While it takes much strength and courage to continuously choose to do the right thing, it takes even more for a person to pick himself up once he's fallen. Human behavior naturally tends toward inaction -- that is, continuing along in a certain way even if it's wrong. A person who overcomes his spiritual inertia and puts himself back on the path of doing what's right even after he's strayed off of it has accomplished something spiritually extraordinary and grown to a very high level.
Q. Why do you think some people have a hard time admitting they made a mistake?
A. Some people mistakenly think that making a mistake is a sign of weakness. So they would rather deny it to save face. The reality is just the opposite -- admitting your errors is a sign of real strength. No one is perfect, and the only way to grow is by recognizing your mistakes and taking responsibility for them.
Q. Can you think of a time you had the courage to admit a mistake?