There are certain concepts which are important to recognize in Judaism. One is that we have free will – we decide – we are not forced to do things. Two, that we are accountable for the choices we make because we have free will to make them. In this week’s parsha of Naso we are told to accept personal responsibility for our actions, not to avoid them, and to make restitution for the harms or crimes we commit. In other words, it is not society’s fault that we chose to take these actions – it is our fault – and we are personally responsible for them.
According to Maimonides, one of the codifiers of Jewish law, one of the thirteen principles of Judaism is that there is reward and punishment for human behavior. We are responsible and accountable for what we do. Too often, in contemporary society, we try to shift blame to parents, socio-economic level and other outside sources that supposedly cause our bad behavior. There is no doubt that life may be more difficult for some than for others. Nonetheless, no one is forced to commit crimes or hurt others. These are individual choices and we are responsible individually for them, not society.
We learn from our mistakes unless we don’t take responsibility for them. By denying that our mistakes are made by our free will, we will never grow to become better human beings. “Tikkum olam” is the goal of “repairing the world”, not perfecting it. We will never be perfect – but we can learn from our mistakes by admitting to them, making restitution and striving to repair ourselves.