On Wednesday morning, Jews throughout the world rose to find out that Benjamin Netanyahu snatched victory out of the claws of defeat as he, unexpectedly, was re-elected as Prime Minister of Israel. All the polls—even the exit polls which are usually spot on—were wrong. He won despite, or perhaps because of, the Obama administration’s not too subtle opposition. Perhaps it was a backlash against the unprecedented efforts by an American administration to oust an Israeli government.
The U.S. Senate is now investigating the “OneVoice Movement”—a nonprofit that backed the “Anti-Netanyahu Victory 15” campaign in Israel while receiving taxpayer funding from a State Department grant. According to Fox News, Victory 15’s connection to the Obama administration is strong because it is advised by former Obama campaign aides, including his top field organizer, Jeremy Bird. In other words, it is alleged that Barak Obama sent political operatives over to Israel to the Zionist Union party—a recent merger of Labor and Kadima—to help defeat Netanyahu.
Some say that Netanyahu’s victory happened because on the last day of his campaign he seemed to reverse his policy of working toward a 2-State solution to the peace process in order to attract right-wing voters who had been abandoning his Likud party. Asked in an interview a day before the election if it was true that a Palestinian State would never be formed while he’s Prime Minister, he replied, “Indeed…Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks to the radical Islam against Israel…This is the true reality that was created here in the last few years.”
A day after the elections, Netanyahu seemed to reverse course and be open to a Palestinian State, yet Obama—like a child who doesn’t get his way—lashed out by threatening to withdraw its protection of Israel in the UN by not vetoing anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian proposals as every administration has always done.
Notice, Netanyahu didn’t say he was wrong about not working towards a Palestinian State and that he’s sorry for what he said. Politicians don’t do that—they “clarify.” He clarified that there was no contradiction in his positions before and after the election. With tongue in cheek he said he still would welcome a Palestinian State if it would accept Israel as a Jewish State and if the Palestinian Authority would renounce its new partnership with Hamas. Let’s not hold our breath!
Did Netanyahu make a mistake? From where I sit, what he did was probably carefully calculated and scripted. Clearly the Israeli people elected him because they wanted a strong leader—one who could stand up to Obama, the Europeans and the Islamists.
Whether it was a mistake or not—that’s not for me to decide. Today I want to speak about what we should do when we realize we have made a mistake. Our Torah reading (Lev. 4:27-28) tells us what one is to do if one sinned unintentionally: “When a person…shall sin unintentionally …when the sin he has committed becomes known to him, then he shall bring his offering...” Why an offering? It’s a way of admitting and confessing the error of one’s ways. What’s the lesson? 2 things: the 1st is that everyone—without exception—makes mistakes. Therefore, it’s no disgrace to make a mistake, especially if one faces up to it, and admits it and tries to learn from it. The 2nd lesson comes from the different offerings brought by a Kohen or a ruler or an ordinary person for their mistakes. This teaches that the mistakes some people make are much more serious than the mistakes other people make.
If I’m a cashier and I make a mistake and overcharge you or give back the wrong amount of change—either I cheated you out of a small amount of money or else I cheated my boss out of a small amount of money unintentionally—but either way it’s not so terrible. It’s only a few dollars here or there. But if I’m a surgeon or an air traffic controller, and I make a mistake, that’s serious.
Have you ever had an operation on your foot? What’s the 1st thing a surgeon does—even before you get anesthesia? He very carefully marks which foot he’s supposed to operate on so he doesn’t make a mistake.
If you’re a salesman and you misquote a price on an item, it’s not such a terrible error. But if you’re an airline pilot and you make a mistake…your plane can wind up on the bottom of the ocean. And so pilots are allowed a much, much smaller margin of error than are salesmen.
If you’re the ruler of a country and you make a mistake…that can have very serious consequences. That’s why the Torah provides a different kind of offering when a ruler makes a mistake than it does when we do. Did Netanyahu make a mistake the day before the election—refusing a Palestinian State? Probably not! But what I want to focus on today is how do we handle the mistakes we make?
The fear and the shame of making a mistake is deeply embedded in our culture. When confronted with mistakes our 1st reaction is to deny it: “I didn’t do it…I’m late because the traffic was bad…the dog ate my homework,” instead of saying, “What can I learn from this mistake that I just made?”
The truth is that if a businessman is not making any mistakes, it means he’s not a very good businessman. In business, one must risk trying new things in order for one’s business to grow. That’s why companies like GM and Radio Shack have declined. They were so afraid of making a mistake that they only did what was safe and proven. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything.”
When American companies expand to other countries, they make plenty of mistakes.
• When GM tried to introduce the Chevy Nova into South America, they neglected to notice that in Spanish “No va” means “No go.” Sales were poor for a car that wouldn’t go.
• The National Dairy Association had great success in this country with their “Got Milk?” campaign. But when they took this slogan into Mexico they were informed that the Spanish translation read, “Are you lactating?”
• When Coca-Cola was introduced in China, their attempts at finding a phonetic equivalent in the Chinese language resulted in a drink called “bite the wax tadpole.”
• Pepsi didn’t fare much better. Their “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” slogan translated into, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”
The point is we all make mistakes—some of them are more public than others—but we’re in good company. The Torah understood that and gave us a vehicle for growth through our mistakes. But when we try to deny our mistakes…that’s when the trouble really begins. Perhaps Hillary Clinton would not be in such hot water today if she only admitted she made a mistake with her emails.
When the Torah tells us to distinguish between the sins of an ordinary person and the sins of a Kohen and the sins of a Ruler, it’s teaching us that there are degrees in the seriousness of the mistakes that we make. A cashier’s mistakes or a salesman’s mistakes are not as life threatening as a surgeon’s mistakes or a pilot’s mistakes, and therefore, they should feel freer to try out new ways, even if they may sometimes risk making mistakes.
The Torah gives us a path to own up to our mistakes and grow through them. We can no longer bring the prescribed offerings to the Holy Temple. However, we can make our own sacrifices and offerings of sorts in time, money and greater commitment to Gd and family to atone for them. For let’s face it, most of our mistakes contain a bit of willfulness—without which they might have been prevented. So let us pray: Slach lanu Avinu ki chatanu, “Forgive us, O Gd for we have erred…Blessed are You Hashem, who abundantly forgives. And may you Gd send your blessings upon Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, and help keep him from making crucial mistakes. For even one mistake for Israel can be catastrophic." Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis