Pinny Arnon

Imperfection and Introspection: Our Response to Grievous Errors

On the first day that the tabernacle was erected in the desert, Moses instructed his brother Aaron to bring the first offering on the altar, but Aaron hesitated. Rashi notes that Aaron was afraid to approach the altar, ashamed of his previous participation in the sin of the Golden calf. Moses therefore encouraged him saying, “Why are you ashamed? It is for this that you were chosen” (Rashi on Leviticus 9:7).

The simple understanding of Moses’ statement to Aaron is that he should not hesitate because he has been chosen to perform this task. But the Baal Shem Tov explains the deeper message of Moses’ words. He is telling his brother not only “it is for this (PURPOSE) that you were chosen,” i.e. to perform the service of the offerings on the altar, but he is furthermore informing him that “it is for this (REASON) that you were chosen.”

“Why are you ashamed? It is for this (your humility and self-effacement) that you were chosen.”

Moses’ message applies not only to his brother Aaron, but to all of us. We are all flawed, and we have all made errors throughout our lives. The question is not whether we are perfect – we are not – but whether we are willing to take responsibility for our mistakes and to humbly learn from them so that we can do and be better. A true leader is one who can model the type of modesty and honesty that will encourage others to live with integrity. It is for this reason, Moses attests, that Aaron was chosen to be the High Priest.

Rabbi YY Jacobson tells the story of a woman who used to walk a long distance each day to bring water from the nearest well. She carried a poll across her shoulders with a bucket on each end. One of the buckets was new and perfect, and the other was riddled with cracks and leaks. Each day, she would return from the well with a bucket and a half of water, and after some time, the leaky bucket finally apologized for its defects. ‘Why don’t you get a new and better bucket,’ it suggested as she prepared to set out in the morning. She smiled and hoisted the two buckets onto her shoulders as always. ‘Observe the two sides of the path,’ she told the leaky bucket as she made her way toward the well. The side on which she carried the watertight pail was dry and plain, but the side on which the cracked pail daily leaked was blossoming with long grass and wildflowers.

This past week, the IDF made a horrible error. While an investigation is still underway, IDF spokespeople have admitted that the attack on an aid convoy that resulted in the death of 7 innocent foreign aid workers was a terrible mistake. While such an admission will do nothing to remedy this tragic incident or alleviate the pain of those whose loved ones have been killed, it is noteworthy that Israel’s immediate response was not excuses, justifications, or lies, but a full acceptance of responsibility and an investigation into what went wrong. Unlike Israel’s enemies, there is no attempt to obfuscate the truth or deflect accountability. The IDF has taken responsibility for its actions and for the tragic accidents that are inevitable in times of war.

Aaron was imperfect, yet he was chosen on account of his introspection and self-critique and his desire to constantly improve. As individuals, and as a people, we must continue to emulate the humility and integrity of our holy forebears. We will fail at times to live up to the lofty standards that we set for ourselves. When we do so, we must continue to accept responsibility and to do everything in our power to not only rectify the errors, but to assure that they are not repeated in the future. We will never achieve perfection – and we will likely never be able to satisfy the impossible double standard that the rest of the world holds us to – but like the leaky bucket, we will continue to cultivate the earth through our many flaws and fissures, and we will continue to do our best to make the desert bloom.

– Derived in part from Pnei Hashem, an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.
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