I Don’t Know

“Moshe heard and he approved” (Vayikra 10:20)

On the happiest day of the life of Aharon, 1 Nissan, in the second year in the desert, two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu, died because they transgressed the dictated procedures in the new Tabernacle. The actual sin is not clear, but the resulting death penalty left Aharon and his remaining children in the halachic status called onen. A dispute arose between Moshe and Aharon and his surviving children as to when an onen must partake of sacrificial meat and when they were forbidden to eat holy foodstuff. Aharon bested Moshe in proving that halachah forbade eating the sacrifice while an onen. The passuk then states: “Moshe heard and he approved.” Rashi explains: “He admitted without shame.”

There was once a Jew who went off the straight path and became a gangster who robbed passersby on the roads. One day he felt remorse and wanted to repent. After reviewing his actions over such a long period of wrongdoing, he realized that teshuvah was not a simple matter. Perplexed by his situation, he went to seek advice from a Rabbi.

“There is a solution, but it is not so simple. I suggest you make a commitment to never tell a lie,” the Rav said.

“I rob and inflict harm in a cold-blooded fashion,” the gangster said. “What would not lying accomplish?” But since he was bent on repenting, he consented to vow never to tell a lie.

After a few days the urge to rob returned. After dressing for his “trade,” he stopped at the door of his house and thought, “If I get caught, they’ll ask me a lot of questions. How can I answer without lying?” He made a U-turn and did not go out to rob. And so it was that whenever wrongdoing entered his mind, he was restrained by his vow to be truthful.

In our parashah, Rashi (on the passuk quoted above) explains that Moshe Rabbeinu admitted his mistake in the face of public embarrassment. The Torah’s intent is to teach us that even the greatest of human beings must constantly strive for perfection. No one is born perfect! Moshe had to overcome the shame of being wrong in order to be truthful. It was a difficult challenge even for one who had perfected himself far beyond anyone else’s achievement in reaching the status of “sheleimut” — perfection.

In tractate Berachot (25b), the Talmud quotes a source and Rashi states: “I don’t know what the source of this statement is.” Gilyon HaShas on the page lists all the places in the entire Shas where Rashi admits “I don’t know.” (There are almost 30 citations!) Our Sages teach (Berachot 24a): “A person should train his mouth to admit ‘I don’t know.’” Such an admission is an exercise in self-perfection — overcoming ego, embarrassment and the rest in order to be truthful.

People assume that the evil inclination does not waste his time with the greats! However, in truth, the opposite is true. The Gemara says, “The greater a person is, the greater his yetzer hara is” (Sukkah 52a). The evil inclination tries to get big people to commit big sins! Learning from Moshe Rabbeinu to admit one’s weaknesses truthfully is the first step to true repentance. Moshe’s error in halachah was not revealed by the Torah to belittle Moshe but rather to praise him and teach us. Let us learn the lesson well.

Shabbat shalom.