by P.J. Schwartz
One of my favorite book series as a child was The Magic School Bus. The series features the antics of Ms. Frizzle, an elementary school teacher, and her class, who board a magical school bus that takes them on field trips to impossible locations such as the solar system and the American Flag. Many people, including me, remember the series because of Ms. Frizzle’s famous catchphrase: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.”
Making mistakes is ingrained within us. We are bound to, as Ms. Frizzle says, “get messy” at some point in our lives. This reality is unavoidable. Therefore, mistakes can and should be opportunities for us to learn about — and improve — ourselves.
Our tradition also recognizes that mistakes and the process of teshuvah (repentance) are part of humanity. Genesis Rabbah 1:4 states:
Six things preceded the creation of the world. Some of these things were actually created, while others God thought of as part of what was to be created. Torah and the throne of glory were created. The creation of the fathers, Israel, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah were created only in God’s thought. Rabbi Ahavah son of Rabbi Ze’era said: So too, repentance.
Our tradition teaches us that teshuvah has been — and always will be — a fundamental aspect of our lives. In turn, Judaism supports the notion that inevitability we will make mistakes during the course of our lives. With these ideas in mind, perhaps we can understand our mistakes as the door to new opportunities. We all will have our triumphs and defeats; all we can do is our very best in the moment. We can choose to focus on the positive or negative. We can choose to understand our mistakes as lessons that reveal our willingness to grow and our commitment to do better in the future.
At this season, we are reminded that we can become the people we have always wanted to be. On this Yom Kippur, may we embrace our strengths and transform those so called “mistakes” into gifts. Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy. For all the missed opportunities for growth and improvement, forgive us, God, pardon us, grant us atonement.
P.J. Schwartz is entering his final year at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, OH. In addition to his rabbinical studies, P.J. earned a Masters in Educational Administration with a specialization in Jewish Studies at Xavier University. He has served congregations in Marion, IN and Ishpeming MI. He currently serves as a rabbinic intern at Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, OH.