D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
The first step in overcoming mistakes is to admit them.
We all make mistakes. While no one likes being wrong, some people find it easy to admit their mistakes, while others push back against the facts rather than acknowledge they did anything wrong. When that happens, we often try to justify the mistake or cover it up. But in the words of pilot Bruce Rhoades, admitting and correcting a mistake doesn’t make you look weak; it actually makes you look stronger.
This week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, outlines the five basic types of sacrifices the Israelites offered to God -- burnt offerings, grain offerings, sacrifices of well-being, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. In other words, sacrifices were brought to God for a variety of reasons: as a gift, as a way to express thanks for things like a good harvest, or as a way to be forgiven for sins.
In Step 5 of the 12 steps we admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. This is perhaps the hardest of the steps because it asks that we admit our mistakes in front of God or Higher Power, and another human being.
Similarly, when one brought a sin offering which was designed to remove the guilt carried by the offender or function as a penalty fee, the offering itself became a public admission of guilt. Rabbi Shefa Gold notes that carrying the burden of our past mistakes can cause shame and shame cuts us off from God’s love. The sin offering helped purify and release one from the effects of that shame.
Whether we connect more to Step 5, a sacrificial sin offering, or a basic need to confront our lapses in judgment, the first step in overcoming our mistakes is to admit them.
Anger is but one letter away from danger.
Anger like happiness and sadness, is a basic human emotion. The Oxford Dictionary defines anger as a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility. All of us experience these feelings from time to time, but how we express our annoyance, displeasure, or hostility, can vary widely from individual to individual. While anger can boost our psychological well-being by offering a way to express negative feelings or motivating us to find solutions to problems, excessive anger can be harmful. Too much of it can undermine relationships, make it difficult to think straight and harm our physical and mental health.
In this week’s Torah portion Ki Tissa, Moses has been with God on Mt. Sinai for a period of time and the Israelites are becoming impatient as they wait for his return. While Israelite impatience is not anything new, what is new is how they act on that impatience. Without a visible Moses to help them negotiate an invisible God, the Israelites are at a loss. So, at their request Aaron builds a very visible Golden Calf. When the calf is finished the people exclaim: אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶֽעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם, This is your God O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 32:4). Aaron then builds an altar on which the people offer sacrifices.
God of course notices what the Israelites are doing and in anger expresses a desire to destroy them. While Moses is able to calm God down, once he himself descends the mountain and sees with his own eyes the extent of the Israelites’ shenanigans, Moses becomes enraged. He smashes the tablets, burns the calf to the ground, grinds it into a powder, then mixes the powder with water and forces the Israelites to drink it. With the people out of control he then commands the Levites to slaughter three thousand of their brothers, neighbors, and relatives (Ex. 32:27). The next day, when his anger has finally subsided, Moses pleads with God to forgive the people. Wow!!
We all get angry, but when our anger leads to uncontrollable rage it can be harmful not only to our own health, but as in the example of Moses, to the health of those around us. To assist in overcoming these feelings perhaps we should always keep in mind how anger is but one letter away from danger.