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Never WRONG!

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

I once heard a saying from someone who felt he was infallible: “I’m never wrong. The only time I was wrong was when I thought I was wrong – but it turned out I was right.”

Children nowadays are very vocal.

They have rights and in some cases, greater knowledge of the modern world than adults. It’s not as easy as it used to be for a parent to convey a message.

Nowadays the child will ask, inquire and might even tell you that you are wrong.

It’s not just adults that have made up viewpoints; increasingly it’s becoming a phenomenon amongst the youth.

One of the children I teach recently told me that he went to Thorpe Park and had the opportunity of going into a ‘special 3D theatre’, where he put on 3D glasses and saw a fantastic animation.

“It was so realistic, I really felt I was there”, he told me.

I asked him to imagine someone coming to the animation and not putting on the special glasses, or putting them on wrong. Consequently, he’s disappointed with his “way” of seeing the adventure. Furthermore, he can’t understand how anybody else can enjoy it. After all, he thinks everyone sees it the way he does.

When someone tries to show him his error, if he’s smart enough to admit that he was wrong, then he can finally enjoy the adventure to its fullest.

But if he’s stubborn and refuses to admit that he could possibly be mistaken, then he will never really enjoy what a lot of other people are enjoying immensely.

And it’s all because he doesn’t have enough guts and intelligence to admit when he is wrong.

Our sages make an interesting observation when Moshe warned Pharaoh of G-d’s tenth plague – the killing of the first born.

Moshe was told to go to Pharaoh and tell him that G-d would kill every firstborn at midnight.

Remarkably, Moshe seems to change the words of G-d and instead tells Pharaoh that the plague will hit approximately at midnight.

How could Moshe change the word of G-d? And why did he deem it necessary to do so?

Rashi explains that Moshe was faced with a predicament. If he were to say the exact time of midnight, and the servants of Pharaoh were watching, perhaps they would not have exact measuring tools to calculate the time. Perhaps they would see the time as 11.55pm or 12.05am.

In such a case, even though all the firstborn would die, the servants of Pharaoh would say that because Moshe claimed it would happen at midnight and it DID NOT, that the whole plague was a farce and didn’t really emanate from G-d.

Thus in not allowing for any misinterpretation, Moshe kept his words ambiguous, saying that the plague would occur around midnight.

Although this answers why he changed the time, we are still left with some confusion.

In our modern world we have wristwatches that are accurate to hundredths of seconds, but in the ancient world, how did they tell the time?

It wasn’t so accurate. Maybe it entailed gazing at stars, or seeing the projection of the moon.

Putting this into perspective, if you lived at that time in Egypt and you were an astrologer, what would you think the odds were that you were right?

For the past ten months, time after time, whatever Moshe said, happened.

So if Moshe would have said at midnight and you would have had a different time, wouldn’t you have believed that it was you making the mistake?

Moshe understood fundamental human nature: we don’t like being wrong.

“My opinion, whether I have substantiated it or not, will not change.”

“Once I reach a conclusion it’s difficult to change.”

I am reminded of a sign that I once saw on the desk of a prominent public figure that said: “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is already made up!” He was joking about it (I think) but that danger lurks in all of us. Once we are convinced of the absolute rectitude of our position, we are not only tenacious in maintaining it; we become downright blindly stubborn.

Moshe realised that they would be obstinate; they could not admit to being wrong and would quickly point the finger at Moshe’s wrong timing.

Thus Moshe cleverly averted the issue, stating that this plague would approximately occur at midnight.

The prophets tell us that there will be a special judgment: “hineninishpatotach al omrech lo chatati” – “Behold I am entering into judgment with you because of your saying, ‘I have not sinned’” (Yirmiyahu 2:35), for the fact that you convinced yourself that you did not sin.

No one likes to sin; therefore when they find themselves sinning, they come up with all sorts of reasons to justify their acts.

Deep down there is no justification and it requires a mighty warrior to fight off the bad tendencies and admit at times to their mistakes.

When we are in the heat of a debate, or when we are speaking to family and friends, let’s make sure that we are not shy to fix our vision.

We are not always right, and should ask what we think is the truth and what we think really happened.

When we are able to put away our personal agenda then we are able to see the truth.

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