Sign In Forgot Password

Parshas Matos/Maasei - I Stand Corrected             1 Av 5778

07/13/18 08:36:44


Years ago when I was just beginning my career, one of my biggest critics, who also happened to be one of my biggest supporters, gave me some invaluable advice. I got up to speak between Mincha and Maariv and attempted to teach/learn with the minyan. I approached the podium, quietly looking over the material, and bumbled my way through the brief interlude of learning. After the services, this individual put his arm around my shoulder and squarely looked me in the eye and said, “If you are not prepared to speak, then don’t.” That was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received in my life; I understood that his input was meant to be constructive and it came from his heart. Since that time, I have been consistently careful to follow his sage words. Nevertheless, a different kind of challenge arises from time to time when teaching.

Generally speaking, I encourage and even ask if anyone has any questions. Occasionally, someone asks a question that is directly on the topic and I can handle the question. But there are times when I am caught off guard, finding myself without a clear answer. My slip-up is that I may to try to give an answer without properly researching the material. Sometimes, I do give the correct answer on the spot, but there have been other times when it should have stated, “I’m not sure about this. I will get back to you.” There is a human tendency towards Gaava (haughtiness), offering answers without total knowledge of the material. Sure enough, a few weeks ago I fell into this trap, only this time I really thought I knew the correct answer. Actually, I’m still convinced I was right, even though I am wrong as is clearly stated in Halacha. Someone asked a related question to the material I was prepared to teach, and I gave an answer. Someone in the crowd, (a noted Torah scholar) with great respect sheepishly quoted the opposite of what I had just said. I responded, reiterating my position, emphatically stating that I was correct. During Maariv the gentleman showed me the Halacha, explaining that my response to the question was dead wrong on the Halachic side, but perhaps correct within the spirit of the law. In the end, however, I was wrong. And I felt defeated!

When it comes to Torah and Toras Emes - the truth of Torah - there is no defeat (maybe some agony, but no certainly no defeat). In the realm of Torah and Halacha, we seek out the truth even though it may injure our pride. Immediately after Maariv (I was afraid that by the next day some of the attendees might not be present to hear the clarification), I got everyone’s attention before they dispersed, I said, “I stand corrected. I was wrong,” and proceeded to acknowledge the correct course of action for that Halacha and thanked the person for pointing it out. After the fact, my pride was not hurt. To the contrary, I was proud to admit the mistake and have clarity in the Torah.

I feel that in today’s day and age this is a sticking point that leads to Machlokes - unnecessary disputes and arguments - that lead to an undercurrent of hatred among our people. We should challenge ourselves to face reality of the statement: ‘How can it be everyone is right, and no one is wrong?’ Even when two people are arguing, and one clearly has a stronger argument, it is difficult for the person with the weaker argument to step down and admit defeat. Our egos cloud our judgment, making it difficult to analyze an alternative viewpoint with clarity. Nevertheless, I can understand why a person may believe he is right and the other individual is wrong. I think the message is a bit deeper than thinking I am right and he is wrong. The greatest challenge to our ego is when we are ultimately arguing within our own head. The internal struggle of ‘I am right, and I can do this or that’ while my alter-ego challenges and argues, professing, ’No! You are wrong and the correct thing to do is the exact opposite of what you are thinking!’ It’s the two-sided battle over who is right and who is wrong when the only person in this battle is you. This comes out when we say one thing, but we think and know that the opposite is true. Do we own up to our mistaken analysis of the situation, or are we not strong enough to do so, maintaining that which we said or thought initially is acceptable? This Shabbos we will read something similar to this situation. Its pertinence to the nine days should be clear.

In the first of the two parshios of Matos/Masei which we read this week, the Torah states in Bamidbar 30:3: “Ish Ki Yidor Neder LaHashem, O Hishava Shvua Lessor Issar Al Nafsho, Lo Yacheil D’Varo, Chol HaYotzay MiPiv YaAseh”. “If a man makes a vow to God or makes an oath to obligate himself, he must not break his word. He must do all that he expressed verbally”. If someone says he is going to do something and he doesn’t do it, or says he is not going to do something and he does it, he is breaking his word. The word ‘yacheil loosely translated means ‘break’, but it has greater significance; it means to turn it into the mundane. Our mouths are holy and the words that come out of our mouths are holy. When we don’t hold up to that, we are desecrating our words, as in a chilul Hashem. The Shela”h HaKadosh says that angels are created from our words; good words create good angels, and the opposite is also true. The Chasam Sofer writes that not only someone who vows with his mouth is responsible to follow through; even a thought of doing something obligates us to fulfill it although we can claim that we never said we would do such and such.

Every individual needs to be honest with himself. By committing to something, we must follow through, and if the first part is wrong, then one needs to stand up and correct the situation right then and there. If we make a statement or even think of one and then realize it is wrong, we should stand up to our error and correct it even when it may be uncomfortable. If we become consciously careful with regards to what we say we will or will not do, we will decrease the desecration of our commitment. This, in turn, will create the impetus to be careful with regards to how and what we speak about others. Let’s strive to ‘stand corrected’ so the Beis HaMikdash will also ‘stand corrected’ speedily in our time.

Wed, October 23 2019 24 Tishrei 5780