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Look Beyond the Past

Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

It can be good to look back on the past. We can learn a lot both from our past successes as well as our mistakes. But we also have to be careful not to let our past mistakes bog us down so much that we're afraid to try again. The Torah this week relates that it was time for Aaron, the High Priest, to perform some of his special sacred tasks for the Jewish people in the Tabernacle. He hesitated and felt unworthy to do such holy things, because he felt responsible for the golden calf that the people had made against God's wishes. But Moses, his brother, reassured him. He encouraged him to go beyond his past mistakes and accomplish all the great things he could in the present. We learn from this to try to be the best we can be now, no matter what might have happened in the past.


In our story a brother and sister explore how not to let past mistakes stop them from doing good now.


The Finer kids excitedly piled into the family's mini-van. Mrs. Finer was careful to pack enough snacks and games to make the one-hour drive to the nursing home a pleasant one.

"Great Aunt Millie is really going to be happy to see us," chirped Liz as her dad started the engine.

Her mom looked around. "Hey, where's Michael?" she asked noticing the boy wasn't in the van.

Without missing a beat, little David leaned over into the driver's seat and started to honk the horn insistently.

"Hey, cut it out!" said his dad with a smile. "You'll wake up the entire neighborhood." Turning to his oldest daughter, he said, "Liz, could you please go tell your brother we're leaving now and ask him to hurry up?"

"No problem, Dad," answered the girl cheerfully. She ran into the house and made her way to her younger brother's room at the end of the hall. "Michael, Mi-chael," she called out in a sing-song voice. She knocked on his door a few times. Finally hearing a muffled "Yeah?" she turned the knob and walked in.

Michael was curled up on his bed, the covers pulled over his head. "Hey Mike what's happening?" she asked. "We're all waiting for you in the car and you've decided to take a nap?"

The boy poked his head out from the blanket. He wasn't smiling at his sister's joke. "I'm not going," he said simply.

"But why not?" asked Liz, surprised. "It's going to make Aunt Millie so happy when we visit her today."

Her brother shook his head. "Maybe she'll be happy to see you," he said, "But I'll probably just get her upset."

Noticing Liz's confused look, Michael went on to explain. "Remember last winter when we went to visit Grandma in the hospital?"

The girl nodded.

"Well, when I kept asking her about why she was there and why she wasn't moving her arms, and then I asked her if she was going to die -- she got upset and started to cry. Mom told me after that it would be better just to try to cheer her up. So this time I'm staying home. I'm not going to blow it again and make Aunt Millie cry too."

"Beep-beep!" blasted the car horn.

"Oh-oh, David's at it again," smiled Liz. "Look Michael," she said. "I can understand why what happened last time upset you. But I also know that you're a considerate person who doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes says the wrong thing, but why should you let what occurred last time stop you from trying this time?"

Michael's face brightened a bit as he sat up on his bed.

Liz continued, "You want to cheer Aunt Millie up, don't you?"

Michael nodded. "Sure. I know she's lonely and needs people to visit her. But after what happened with Grandma, I just don't know if I can..."

"Okay, what happened, happened," said Liz. "But now you can put it behind you and make a fresh start. How about telling yourself that from now on you're going to do it the right way?"

Michael thought for a moment and said, "I guess I can do that, can't I?"

Suddenly they were rudely interrupted by yet another horn blast. "Let's go," Michael said, jumping down off of the bed. "Before David wears out the van's horn."

They laughed. As they headed out to the waiting car, Michael turned to his sister and said, "Thanks Liz, I can certainly take some lessons from you about how to cheer a person up!"


Ages 3-5

Q. How do you think Michael felt when it was time to go visit his great aunt in the nursing home?
A. He didn't want to go because he felt afraid that he would make her feel bad like he did with his grandma.

Q. Just because we made a mistake or did something wrong in the past, does that mean that we can't try to do the right thing now?
A. No. We can always start fresh and do the right thing from now on.

Ages 6-9

Q. What did Liz say that convinced Michael to come along to visit their great aunt?
A. She was able to help him realize that a person always has a second chance to improve. The fact that he had made some incorrect choices in the past was no reason why he couldn't act correctly now. Her words encouraged Michael to try again in spite of what happened in the past.

Q. Do you think that we are ever stuck having to behave a certain way, or can we always choose to change for the better?
A. Some things we can't change. A tall person can't become short or vice-versa. But when it comes to how we choose to behave we're never stuck. While we might not be able to improve overnight, if we keep trying, we can eventually come to behave in ways that we really want to.

Q. Can you think of a time you decided to do something that was very difficult?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Our spiritual tradition describes a good person not as someone who never does bad, but rather as someone who repeatedly fails and picks himself up. How do you understand this? Why do you think this is so?
A. Life is a dynamic process. Inevitably, a person who is focused on spiritual growth is going to encounter challenges and tests, sometimes he will pass these, sometimes he won't. Yet even when it seems like he "failed," this in itself is really only a test. God wants us to unlock the hidden ability within ourselves to pick ourselves up and continue along the path of personal growth. The dynamic process of growing toward goodness is good in itself. The boy in our story accomplished this when he overcame his fears of past failure and agreed to visit his aunt.

Q. Would you say that somebody whose natural personality or life circumstances makes it very difficult for her to do the right thing is somehow not responsible for the way she behaves? Why or why not?
A. Certainly such a person faces a greater challenge to make the proper choices. Nevertheless she, like all of us, is ultimately responsible for the choices she makes. God wants all of us to succeed and He gives us the tools to do so. If we honestly search within ourselves we can often discover the means to overcome the most challenging circumstances. God never gives up on us and He doesn't want us to give up on ourselves either.

Q. Can you think of a time you decided to do something that was very difficult?


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