P arshas Shemini

“And Moshe and Aharon came to the Ohel Moed.” (Vayikra 9:23)

Rashi says that when Aharon saw that they brought all the korbanos and still the Shechinah did not come down to Yisrael, he felt bad, and said, “It’s because Hashem’s angry with me.”

Aharon’s readiness to accept blame isn’t typical of human nature. In general, when a person experiences a tzarah, he blames it on someone else.

In public or communal tzaros, this tendency is even more blatant. There’s a natural aversion toward taking responsibility; instead, most shift the blame. (Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, Daas Torah)

“Do you have this in sizes two, four, six, and eight?” I held up the black T-shirt eagerly.

The saleslady’s eyebrow ring rose several inches. “I’m sorry, that only comes in baby sizes.”

“Don’t know why,” I grumbled. “Babies aren’t the ones talking, after all.” I laid the T-shirt back on the pile, my fingers regretfully tracing the shiny silver lettering emblazoned across the front.

I Didn’t Do It.

It would’ve been nice to get the shirt in all those sizes so I wouldn’t be subjected to a chorus every time my kids try to avoid blame. They’ve got the harmony down to a science.

“Shlomy dirtied my pants.” My two-year-old pointed to the newborn.

“Yitzi forced the taffy down my throat!”

“The sky was full of orange clouds that rained orange juice on the floor!”

I don’t know why I even bother asking.

Rav Tzvi Markowitz says this also works regarding personal growth. There’s no one to blame or credit except yourself.

The Gemara (Succah 53a) says about Hillel that he’d rejoice by the Simchas Beis Hashoeivah and say, “If I am here, then everyone is here, and if I’m not here, then who is here?”

This doesn’t sound like the humility we associate with Hillel.

Yet Hillel was actually explaining a fundamental rule in personal growth. We’re all waiting for the other to improve first. In actuality, I have to be here for myself, then everyone will be here as well. If I’m waiting for everyone else to step up to the plate first, then who is here? Nobody. (ibid.)

As a mechaneches in seminary, I met with each of my students weekly. The majority of the girls wanted to get the most out of seminary and were fully engaged throughout the year.

Yaffa, with her lackluster attitude, was a contrast. Through any inspirational shiur, tiyul, or activity, she seemed indifferent.

Finally, toward the middle of the year, she blurted out her frustration. “I came here to be brainwashed and it’s not working!”

Sorry, Yaffa. The only one who can wash your brain is yourself.

The Gemara tells us (Taanis, perek beis) that at a time of tzarah they’d decree a fast on the congregation and take the Aron to the streets of the city so they’d be embarrassed from their sins and do teshuvah.

These words of Chazal are a slap in the face to all those who’d naturally place the blame on their friends. Each person needed to realize that if it was his friend’s fault, then what was the point of a communal day of teshuvah? Rather, each individual needed to accept responsibility and do teshuvah to avert the tragedy for the whole congregation.

This idea also helps prevent sin by causing us to realize that even sins done in private affect those around us. (ibid.)

I detest parallel parking. The streets of Yerushalayim were built with camels in mind, not millennium motors. Add a dark night with no streetlights, and I was doomed from the start.

I inched my car slowly into the spot, peering intently in the rearview mirror, seeing nothing but darkness.

Bump.

Oh, no!

I got out to assess the situation.

Did I scratch the car behind me? If so, it wasn’t the first dent it boasted. Now what? If I made a quick getaway, no one would ever know.

But the last thing I wanted was to come back to This World as a car fender because I couldn’t own up to my actions. Sighing, I scribbled a quick note, which I stuck under the other car’s windshield wiper.

Driving home, I tried to analyze my emotions. On the one hand, my note of confession might cost me big bucks if the owner decides I’m responsible for all the dents in his car. But on the other hand, I couldn’t deny the good feeling that comes from realizing the buck stops by me. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 538)