Everyone Slips Up
Everybody makes mistakes. Even though we try to do things right, it is inevitable that sometimes we will slip up. In this week's Torah portion we see how even Moses, one of the most perfect people who ever lived, made a mistake when God told him to speak to the rock, which would miraculously bring out water, and he hit it with his staff instead. God doesn't expect us to be perfect, nor must we expect it of ourselves. Rathe, our job is always to try to do our best, and then learn from any mistakes we do make.
In our story a girl learns that it's okay not to be perfect.
"The human dictionary" is what Debby Reiner's friends would call her, shaking their heads in wonder. The girl just seemed to know how to spell, define, punctuate, or otherwise dissect every word in the English language.
So it didn't surprise anyone when Debby walked away as the local spelling champion, and was invited to attend the state finals in Culver City.
When the big day arrived, Debby, her parents, and a cheering section of four of her best friends all packed in to the Reiner's van and happily embarked upon the three-hour journey. Her friends took turns testing Debby along the way from a special list of five-syllable words.
"Debby, I can't even read most of these words that you're spelling!" chuckled her friend, Alice.
Finally they arrived at Wilson Auditorium, where the contest was being held. It was an awesome building with high gold ceilings, and plush red-velvet seats. Alice, and the rest of them found seats towards the front, wished Debby well, and held their breath as she, along with 19 other spelling whizzes took their places on the spot-lit stage.
As the contest progressed the words got harder, and one by one the contestants dropped out until soon only two remained, Debby, and another girl with short straight black hair, thick glasses, and an ultra-serious look on her face.
Back and forth, like ping-pong balls, the judges bounced words at the two finalists, but neither would yield. Alice thought she was going to faint from the excitement. It was Debby's turn. The judge, seemingly out of killer words, asked Debby to spell a word that seemed rather easy: "Beautiful."
"Hey, even I know that one!" thought Alice.
Debby looked confused, and amazingly, spelled the word wrong!
"I'm sorry..." said the judge, as the other girl who had won, jumped for joy.
Debby hid her face in her hands and ran off the stage. Alice found her crying in the ladies' washroom. "I can't believe I blew it," she said bitterly. "I should have been able to spell a word like that backwards in my sleep!"
Alice tried to comfort her friend. "Look Debby, I know that you must feel terrible, but everybody makes mistakes."
But Debby shook her head. "Not me!" she sniffed, "I should have done better."
Alice took her friend by the hands. "Debby, I know you're upset, but nobody's perfect, not even you. God didn't put us in the world to be perfect, but to try our best and learn from the mistakes that we do make."
Debby nodded in agreement. "I know, I know."
Suddenly Alice got an idea. She reached into her handbag and pulled out a dictionary. Her copy had been printed with the cover upside down. "See Debby," she said with a smile. "Even the dictionary gets it wrong sometimes!" The two friends laughed, embraced, and started to head home.
Q. How did Debby feel when she spelled the word wrong?
A. She felt as though she was bad because she had made a mistake.
Q. How about after she spoke with her friend Alice?
A. She felt better, and realized that nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
Q. What, if anything, do you think a person could learn from making a mistake?
A. For one thing, he can try to analyze what went wrong and try not to do it the next time. He can learn to forgive others when they make mistakes. Also, one can come to realize that even though he isn't perfect he is still a good and worthwhile person.
Q. Is it realistic for a person to expect himself to be perfect?
A. While it is a great motivator to try to be the best we can, the fact of the matter is that there is no one who is 100%, all of the time. We can, and should strive to continually grow better and better, but perfection is an unrealistic goal for any human being.
Q. Can you think of a lesson you learned from a mistake you once made?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is it preferable to learn from one's own mistakes, or from other people's mistakes?
A. The benefit of learning from a mistake is that it becomes real to us and we are unlikely to repeat it in the future. A person who can clearly analyze, and draw correct conclusions from the mistakes of others, and internalize the message, will gain this benefit while being spared the pain and damage of the actual mistake.
Q. When a person makes a personal mistake and behaves counter to his values, what is an effective approach to put himself back on the right track?
A. Our sages teach than in such a case, a process of "teshuva" - a return to our values, is called for. This is a three-step process of: (a) confronting and admitting to the mistake, (b) feeling genuine remorse over it, and (c) resolving in our minds not to repeat the same mistake in the future. This is a powerful process that can be used often to catapult us toward tremendous spiritual growth. Q. Can you think of a lesson you learned from a mistake you once made?