Owning a Mistake

Question

Dear Rabbi, what does Judaism teach about learning from mistakes and correcting them? I’m not asking about sins, which I understand involves a process of repentance. Rather, how important is it to recognize and “own” one’s mistaken action? Thank you!

6 months

Answers

  1. The Mishna (Pirkei Avot 5:7) says: “There are seven things that characterize a golem (i.e. a boor), and seven that characterize a wise person. A wise person does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age. He does not interrupt his fellow’s words. He does not hasten to answer. His questions are on the subject and his answers to the point. He responds to first things first and to latter things later. Concerning what he did not hear, he says ‘I did not hear.’ A wise person concedes to the truth. With the golem, the reverse of all these is the case.”

    Of these seven traits, the final description of the wise person is one who concedes the truth. He recognizes and admits when something is true, even if he had not previously understood it to be true. When the wise man concludes that he was mistaken, he hurries to admit that he did not know. He owns up to his mistake and does not continue with the mistake in order to try to save face.

    The recent COVID-19 upheaval highlighted these different human attributes. At first, the virus was novel and previously unknown. Then, the vaccine came onto the public scene as a big question mark. Some were hasty to accept it, while others were more cautious and less quick to take the risk. All in all, people’s character traits became quite apparent. While those who were willing to learn were open to change their positions as more information became known, there were (and perhaps still are) people whose positions cannot be swayed by proof. They used all of their wisdom to prevent the facts from changing their opinion.

    Jewish tradition teaches us to follow the words of our Sages, who said, “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” Of course, this refers to everyone who has something intelligent and moral to say!

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team