Mistakes are our essence

Steven Genack

Judaism Kotel prayer (file)
Kotel prayer (file)

If you need a literal awakening for the High Holydays, then just pay heed to the beginning of last week's parsha, “Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem – All of you are standing, this day, before the Lord, your G-d.” Then investigate the haftarah where it says (Isaiah 63:8), “For He said, ‘Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely;’ and He became their Savior in all their distress.” This verse clearly indicates that we are G-d’s children. 

Thus, two seminal concepts are established, true we are standing in front of a mighty and exalted King, but we are also His children. A father always has mercy on his children no matter their predicament. 

Furthermore, there are two more reasons to feel comfort when approaching this awesome day. 

One reason involves investigating the "Source” of the world and the other the “source” of our composition.

Rav Soleveitchik zt"l puts forth a phenomenal idea that should help us understand that G-d Himself, the Source of everything was the “Creator” of mistakes. The Midrash (Breishis Rabbah 3:7) notes that G-d created and destroyed many worlds before creating the permanent one that we now live in. Rav Soleveitchik explains that G-d was setting the precedent for man that failure is a natural process and a process that will now be a reality in this world. Through trial and error G-d opened up the reality and tolerance for lapses. This should give us a feeling of comfort when facing the Creator himself when acknowledging our shortcomings

A second reason can be offered based on an insight by Rav Goldwicht, shlitarosh yeshiva of Yeshiva University. He explains beautifully that if you look to the "source" of man's composition, you find "dust." Man was created out of dust. We know the earth (dust) disobeyed G-d's command, for G-d instructed the ground to create a tree that tastes like the fruit it bears yet the earth disobeyed and formed a tree that had no taste. (Rav Kook zt”l explains that the ground felt that the tree was a mere extension to reach the fruit, representative of the journey of life which it viewed as a bitter process, but the ground was mistaken for the journey towards the result [fruit], though grueling, is just as purposeful and viewed as equally as sweet in G-d’s eyes). Therefore, G-d should understand our inclination towards sin, as we are composed of dust, an element that rebelled against Him.

I believe this explains the verse we say in tachanun (Psalm 103:14), “For He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” In essence, we're telling G-d to look at the dust we are composed of as the reason for our fallacies and not our inherent actions.

By investigating the “Source” of the world and the “source” of our composition (which disobeyed G-d in failing to realize the journey is just as important as the results, affirming that mistakes themselves are valuable), and knowing we are G-d’s children, we can approach a day of trembling with some kind of comfort knowing that mistakes were already born into this world before our existence, thus giving us an opening to ask for mercy.