Pinocchio and The Spartans
Not long into the Peloponnesian war, the Spartans suffered a calamitous defeat in the Gulf of Corinth. They realized that despite their supremely disciplined army they would be dominated by the Athen’s great sea power. The Spartans understood that they would have to improve their naval tactics. Brasidas, the charismatic general, rallied the troops before the next battle: “We cannot find a single reason why we should fail: and as many mistakes as we made before, now these same events will teach us a lesson.” (Thucycides, The Peloponnesian War 2.87.7)
Sounds good, and wise, yet, most of us seem to prefer the Pinocchio approach. The puppet-boy knows that his nose will grow each time he lies. He experienced the shame of an elongated nose numerous times, but he could not help himself. He wanted to have fun. He didn’t want to go to school. Pinocchio couldn’t admit what he was really doing, so he lied, and lied and lied. Perhaps his fairy was too forgiving and he believed that he could continue to be healed every time he did Teshuva. Sound familiar?
The Spartans used their mistakes as lessons for the future. Pinocchio chose to ignore the lessons and continue to do as he pleased.
Who are we on Yom Kippur? Do we believe that, as Brasidas said, “We cannot find a single reason why we should fail”? Do we approach the Vidui – Yom Kippur Confession with a sense that the mistakes of the past serve as lessons for the future? Or, have we fallen into the trap in which the generous atonement of Yom Kippur convinces us that even if our noses grow, we can always have them magically repaired?
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