Posted in Dvar Torah, on March 7, 2014

Lessons from the Avodah: 1. Turning inevitable failures into inevitable success! (Parshat Va’Yikra)

Parshat Va’Yikra
This week’s Torah portion deals with sacrificial laws, which are very complicated and constitute an entire Seder (~1/6th) of the Talmud. It is easy to get lost in the details which can seem irrelevant to our current lives, and to blow off learning the entire Book of Va’Yikra. For the next couple months we will be discussing this book, and I want to go on the journey with all of you in trying to find the lessons that are hidden amongst the detailed laws that can seem rather dull at first glance.
There is one main distinction that is made between different types of sacrifices in this week’s reading: voluntary vs. obligatory sacrifices. Among the obligatory sacrifices are the offerings given for atonement, for sins committed unintentionally.
I would like to examine one specific sacrifice for atonement of sin, and that is the sacrifice prescribed for the leader who commits a sin. The leader, called a nassi, must bring a sacrifice when he commits a sin, and there is a certain procedure for this sacrifice.
When the Torah talks about this sacrifice it uses extremely unusual wording. When describing all of the other sin offerings the Torah starts out with the Hebrew word im, which means “if”. “If x happens, do y.” For example, if an individual sins, he must bring one goat to this place etc.
keep-calm-and-learn-from-your-mistakes-141However when the Torah talks about the leader’s sin offering, it uses a different word – asher. This word usually means “that” or “when”. The Torah uses this word in place of “if”, as if to say that the leader will certainly sin, while the rest of the circumstances discussed only have a chance of happening. What is this idea of the leader certainly sinning?
This is a very clear lesson in leadership. Of all people who need to acknowledge their mistakes and own up to their sins, the leaders take the top of the list. A leader must be honest.
The Talmud explains this statement and says: “Praiseworthy is the generation whose leader owns up to his sin.” This is a shocking statement. I would have expected the Talmud to say that a generation with a sinless, seemingly more moral leader would have been the one that is denoted as praiseworthy, not the guilty one that admits to its faults!
However, this is not the case, because for a leader, messing up is inevitable. The Torah understands this and thus teaches that THE KEY TO LEADERSHIP IS LEARNING FROM YOUR MISTAKES. A person with the ability to own up to his/her mistakes, and then based on that mistake prepare for a better future, is the ideal leader. And since they have the best leader, the people will be praiseworthy and successful.
Every one of us is a leader in some way. We all make mistakes. The trick to success is being able to grow from our mistakes. Firstly, we must admit that they exist. Secondly, we must be able to use those mistakes to show us the path we took, what went wrong, and how we can adjust our future path to lead to better things.
– Jonathan Levine