Parshas Vayikra - Is Failure Always Such A Bad Thing?

By BJLife/Moishy Pruzansky

Posted on 03/16/18

 “If a leader [of Israel] sins and unintentionally commits one of all the commandments of the L-rd, which may not be committed...then he shall bring his offering...(Vayikra 4:22-24).”

 The Torah states that if the Nassi, the leader of the Jewish people, unintentionally sins, he must bring a special korban to atone for his transgression. Regarding this procedure, Rashi quotes a Gemara (Horiyos 10b) which makes a seemingly strange statement: “Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai said ‘Praiseworthy is the generation whose leader brings a sin-offering for his inadvertent transgression’”.

 Now, I can understand that it is praiseworthy for a leader to admit that he has done something wrong. However, shouldn’t R’ Yochanan save his “praiseworthy” accolade for the leader who has not sinned at all? Such a leader can serve as an incredible role model for his constituents and followers. If our leader can remain above temptation, if our leader can avoid the spiritual and physical pitfalls of life - we can as well. Why not laud the Nassi who has never suffered a setback rather than praising the one who did??

 A recent social experiment was performed: an actor dressed up as a homeless man, entered a restaurant and approached a table where a man was eating an elaborate meal. The homeless-looking man softly explained that he hadn’t eaten anything at all that day and that he was starving. He meekly requested that the man share some morsels of food to stifle his hunger pains. The young man shook his head “no” and continued in his indulgence. The “homeless” man moved on to the next table and repeated his request to a young woman with enough side dishes to feed 3 people. She politely refused to provide him with anything. Similar results occurred with the rest of the diners in the restaurant.

 The homeless imposter then had his friend buy a bagel sandwich and deliver it to a genuine homeless man sitting on a park bench. When the homeless man on the bench saw the fresh bagel his eyes opened wide, he thanked his benefactor, and bit into his newly prized possession with delight and enthusiasm. The actor, still dressed as a homeless man, quickly scooted over to the park bench and asked the homeless man if he could spare some of his sandwich. To everyone’s amazement, with barely a moment’s hesitation, the homeless man split his bagel in two and gladly shared the other half with the homeless imposter.

 The study concluded the following: the people dining in the restaurant were not trying to be particularly cruel or insensitive towards the needs of another human being. Rather, they simply couldn’t relate to his pain. Only a homeless man who had personally experienced the pain of hunger had the ability to relate to and understand someone suffering through a similar situation.

 Rav Menachem of Amshinov (1850-1918), quoted by R’ Shmuel Silber, explains that THIS is the reason why we praise a generation whose leader has made mistakes. A person who has not suffered personal failure will be unable to forgive another for his shortcomings. A person who has never tasted the bitterness of personal defeat will not appreciate the struggles of those he must lead. The person who always succeeds will look at those who do not with a sense of disapproval and resentment. Therefore, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai says praiseworthy is the generation whose leader has stumbled, for this is a leader who will understand, appreciate and empathize with the difficulties that his generation must face - making him that much more effective of a leader because he can properly relate to, advise and lead them.

 Living Inspired

 The words of the Amshinover resonate with incredible personal relevance. We all stumble, fall and suffer setbacks along the journey of life. We have tasted the bitterness of defeat and have felt the pain of self-doubt. These experiences must sensitize and allow us to be accepting of the faults and shortcomings of others. It is precisely because we know how frail we are that we must accept the frailties of those around us. It is because we know how much we yearn to be forgiven for our transgressions that we must be quick to dispense forgiveness to those who wrong us. Instead of using negative past experiences to justify acting in a similarly negative or callous fashion towards others, let us use these experiences to become kinder, more understanding and more accepting people.


- This week’s Dvar Torah is a compilation, with permission, of a beautiful Dvar Torah by R’ Shmuel Silber and a documented study quoted By R’ Eli Scheller, with a few addendums and changes.