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Moving on from mistakes

03/17/2022 03:12:34 PM


I’m a dweller. When I mess up, I find myself replaying my mistake in my mind and wondering how I could have done things differently. And after wondering about it for some time and arriving at some sort of insight, I dwell on it and repeat the process. There is a certain dissatisfaction I have with myself when I make a mistake and a compelling need to make things better. But not every mistake is so easily fixed. So, I dwell. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Tzav, we re-encounter the laws for the various types of sacrifices that were offered by our Israelite ancestors. Two such sacrifices were the sin offering and the guilt offering. These two sacrifices would be offered whenever a person makes an inadvertent mistake and is seen as a correction for the wrong. However, how can these offerings right what was once wrong? How does sacrificing an animal and offering it to God undo the mistake and erase the guilt that one incurs? The Etz Chaim commentary offers a solution when exploring these sacrifices in the previous portion. Instead of understanding these expiation offerings as a blanket nullification of past wrongs, perhaps these sacrifices provide an opportunity to demonstrate a different attribute of our character. Instead of letting the mistakes and guilt define us, these offerings spur us into motion. Thus we become more than just our past mistakes, we also become people who can bring holiness and meaning into our world. 

In a world that is devoid of Jewish offerings, we still experience the legacy of these expiatory sacrifices through the other holy and meaningful acts of our lives. We can’t bring our animal for sacrifice, but we can double down on our actions and seek to be more mindful and intentional moving forward. Certainly, we still must correct our past mistakes, but we would be wise to remember that we are more than the missteps of the past. We are people who have the capacity to build, heal, mend, and create. As a dweller, it is sometimes helpful to remember that a past mistake doesn’t define me. All my actions define me. Surely, I therefore must get going and construct more moments of righteousness. For a new right doesn’t undo a wrong, but it surely helps us understand that we have the capacity to move on from whatever guilt might be immobilizing us. 

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784