To Err is to be Human

42d52fe3-2f46-44eb-84ad-9d610b04eb12The foundation of education is the ability to realize that one’s knowledge is not all encompassing and there is room for growth. The corollary is that on the way, we will make mistakes. People may readily agree with the first statement, but have a harder time coming to terms with making mistakes. The child that stumbles and falls as they learn to walk, has a harder time stumbling and falling when they are older.


Judaism is built on a foundation of mistake-making. It happened in the Garden of Eden when the fruit was eaten and it happened when the Jewish people worshipped a golden calf (and multiple other times throughout the Bible). However there is a simple solution that is not so simple – admitting we made a mistake and doing better next time. This is the core of this week’s parasha, Acharei Mot, where the outline of the Yom Kippur service is given.  The service entails both public acknowledgement of the failings of the Jewish people as a whole and individually, as well as a resolution to learn, grow, and move on.


It is hard to grow when there is an expectation not to make mistakes, as mistakes are confused with failure and the two are very different. When a human makes a mistake they are not a failure as a human being, but a human who is learning and growing. So too, when our students make mistakes in a test, exam, sport, or social setting, they are not a failure at all, but rather a young person who is learning and growing. In a society that focuses on perfection, whether in looks or in grades, then any type of flaw is seen as a failure, rather than a hurdle, challenge, or obstacle to be overcome.


The idea of Yom Kippur lets us be comfortable with the humanity of our mistakes. When we as educators and parents acknowledge our mistakes, we model for the next generation what a good education should look like.


Shabbat Shalom


Rabbi Reuven Margrett
Director of Jewish Studies