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  • Writer's pictureRuth Schapira

Accepting Missteps

How tolerant are we of our own mistakes?

Do we forgive others more easily than we forgive ourselves?

Should we hold ourselves in contempt for all the times that we commit the same wrong that we promised ourselves would never happen again? You know, the times when you say to yourself "So, this is the last time...." but almost predictably, that time occurs over and over again.

Habits are hard to break, and even harder to adopt.

I recently read that it takes 90 days for a habit to develop a neuropathway in the brain, solidifying the connection to behavior. Ninety days!

Our tradition says that we cannot properly comprehend a Torah teaching unless we first make some mistakes (Talmud, Gittin, 43b). So, in order for a new understanding to take hold, it will take trial and error.

This is the slow but sure way to learn. As children, we stumbled many times before we learned to walk. Can you imagine getting angry at a child who is learning to walk and more often than not, falls down? Or losing patience for the child who is learning to ride a bicycle?

Yet, we are hard on ourselves when we seek to change our own patterns and behavior.

Making mistakes is part of the learning process, but we tolerate little in that regard.

Elsewhere, we read that even the most righteous 'fall down': "Seven times the righteous man falls and gets up, While the wicked are tripped by one misfortune" Proverbs / Mishlei (24:16)

A person beyond reproach, a tzaddik - righteous person falls seven times yet rises again, never giving up, not giving in. They are not deterred from their goal. In fact, perhaps it is the falling down that precisely enables them to continue on. Yet, it is the 'wicked' (read selfish, egotistic---or any modern word that you see fit) who cannot handle failure. The loss of perfection is just too overwhelming to continue. The temptation to be perfect by not making a mistake is itself a mistake.

So can't we find it in our own hearts to be a little kinder to ourselves? A little more tolerant?

There is a beautiful comment about errors one may make while praying. If you make a mistake and start to say the wrong prayer, (e.g. the regular weekday silent prayer (Amidah) instead of the one for Shabbat), you first complete the blessing you started when you first realized your mistake, and only then do you begin the proper prayer. (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim, 268).

In other words, don't shortchange the process. Don't chastise yourself, don't blame, simply recognize the mistake for what it is, and then move forward.

What missteps will you allow yourself?

How will your choices inform your future?


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