We all make mistakes. That is a fact of life. That being said, the fear of making mistakes is so petrifying that sometimes, people do not even try their hand at something they might botch. The result of the mindset, “I must be perfect, otherwise, why try at all?” is inaction, complacency, or worse yet, apathy. Striving to achieve our goals, while understanding and accepting the possibility of making mistakes along the way, however, is exactly the sort of service God desires from us, as it says, “Seven times the righteous person falls, yet rises again” (Mishlei 24:16). Yes, we all make mistakes. But it is our ability to learn from our mistakes, to use them as opportunities to improve ourselves, which enables us to continue on our journeys towards achieving the aspirations we have for ourselves. God does not desire perfection. God desires our sincere attempts towards attaining the ideals we seek with our whole hearts. Be that as it may, we often feel like we need “permission” to embrace this way of thinking – that it is alright to make mistakes, because making mistakes and learning from them help us grow. Therefore, we often look to our leadership to inspire us, and one of the most inspiring things any leadership can do is to show that making mistakes is not only acceptable, what is more, it is necessary.
In this week’s parsha, Parshat Vayikra, we learn about all the various sacrifices the Jewish people needed to bring for myriad situations. However, one of the most common sacrifices brought by the people was the “Chatat,” or the “Sin Offering,” which was required to be given in order to atone for committing sins inadvertently, as it says, “When a person will sin unintentionally from among all the commandments of the Lord that may not be done, and he commits one of them” (Vayikra 4:2). That is to say, if a person was not careful about performing a certain negative mitzvah, a Korban Chatat would be required because a mistake made must be rectified, and only through the bringing of a sacrifice can the individual who inadvertently sinned atone and commit themselves to be more careful in the future so that they “may merit to come close before Him” (Ramban on Vayikra 4:2).
However, what happens when a leader sins inadvertently? What happens when a leader makes a mistake, and was not as scrupulous about observing certain mitzvot? What should that leader do? For a leader to admit to making a mistake, to show that he or she is merely human, might seem like it could lose the confidence of his or her people. However, that is not what our parsha teaches us. On the contrary, the Torah tells us, “When ruler sins, and commits one from among all of the commandments of the Lord that may not be done – unintentionally – and becomes guilty” (Vayikra 4:22). According to Rashi based on the Sifra, “The word ‘Asher’ or ‘when,’ is related to the word ‘Ashrei’ or ‘fortunate,’ as if to say, ‘fortunate is the generation whose ruler sets his heart to bring an atonement for his unintentional sin. All the more so, that he has regrets over his intentional sins’” (Rashi on Vayikra 4:22). Here, Rashi is teaching us that one of the greatest gifts a leader can give to his or her people, is to show them that only if we are bold enough to try new things, make mistakes and even fail, can we ever succeed at doing extraordinary things. By showing the people that even the leader makes mistakes, but through the act of offering the Korban Chatat, also show that he or she is committed to doing better next time, that leader is teaching his or her flock the benefits of imperfection, and the value of improvement.
God does not demand perfection, but God does desire striving for it. The Korban Chatat teaches us that we must recognize the mistakes we have made and commit to doing better in the future, and the Jewish leadership paves the way – gives “permission,” as it were, for people to feel this way by modeling this, and this the Torah views as a real positive value for any and every generation. This Shabbat, may we all, as leaders in our community, embrace the fact that we all make mistakes – that we are not perfect. Yet, at the same time, may we all strive to reach that perfection through the process of constant growth through recognizing what we can improve upon, and commit ourselves to that improvement. Mistakes can be helpful, but only if we seek to learn from them. The Korban Chatat gave the Jewish people that opportunity. May we all strive to embody the spirit of giving that sacrifice, as we continue to rise, stumble, and rise again.