Most people, even scholars, do not understand the Hebrew Bible correctly. They think the Bible, called Torah in Hebrew, a word that means instruction, contains stories of people living proper lives that should be an example for all who read it.

This is not entirely true.

Virtually every significant person mentioned in the Torah had faults, just like other humans.

In addition to instructing people how to act, the Torah teaches readers that all humans make mistakes, which they can correct to become all they can be and an example for others to follow.

The very first humans in the Bible, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God’s first command. They also failed to raise their son Cain properly. Cain became a murderer when he killed his brother Abel. This introductory description of the first humans highlights this message.

God saved Noah when He flooded the earth, and Noah’s reaction after the flood was to get drunk.

The highly respected scholar and mystic Nachmanides, who loved the Torah and insisted it is a gift to humanity by God, criticized the patriarch Abraham for telling the Egyptians, when he left Canaan and traveled to Egypt during a famine, that his wife Sarah, was his sister, lest the Egyptians kill him to take Sarah. Nachmanides argued that Abraham should have had faith that God would protect him. While I disagree that humans should rely on God for help rather than helping themselves, it is interesting to see that this pious mystic had no problem saying Abraham made a mistake.

Consider the story of Isaac and Jacob. Isaac, the second patriarch, a revered figure, was not immune to making mistakes. He failed to recognize Jacob as the son who deserved the blessing, a decision that could be seen as a mistake. He ignores his wife Rebecca’s love for their son Jacob and proposes to bless his other son Esau when Esau captures an animal, kills it, and serves him a meal. Besides being blind to the worthiness of his sons, Isaac’s behavior must have created a dysfunctional family.

Ishmael, Abrahm’s son, and Esau, Isaac’s son, are no exceptions. While many post-biblical stories depict the two unfavorably, the Torah does not criticize them. True, it indicates Ishmael erred in somehow mistreating Isaac when he was a child and describes Esau’s hatred of Jacob for stealing his blessing and vowing to kill him. But it otherwise depicts them favorably. Ishmael joined Isaac at Abraham’s funeral. Esau kissed his brother Jacob when he returned home.

The third patriarch, Jacob, made several mistakes. He showed an excessive preference for his younger son Joseph and angered Joseph’s brothers. This resulted in Joseph being sold into slavery and Jacob suffering the loss of Joseph for twenty years. Jacob also arguably erred when he did not react when his daughter Dinah was kidnapped and then again later when he blamed his two sons, Simeon and Levy when they did respond.

King David, who Jewish tradition believes is the ancestor of the coming Messiah, committed adultery with Batsheva and had Batsheva’s husband murdered.

Even Moses made mistakes, and God punished him by disallowing him permission to lead the Israelites into Canaan, the name Israel had at the time. Despite leading the Israelites from slavery and caring for them for forty years in the desert, Moses acted impatiently with the Israelites and criticized them.

Tradition states that Elijah is so significant that he will announce the Messiah. Yet, Elijah angered God, who condemned him for his loud criticism of the people of Israel. God told Elijah that he does not speak with the harsh sound of thunder but in a still, soft voice.

It’s crucial to understand that the Torah acknowledges the inevitability of human error. However, it also offers a beacon of hope. Mistakes can be corrected, and the person who erred can become an example for others. The key lies in understanding how to fix these mistakes. Some advocate for prayer, others for fasting, and some believe charity helps, a ceremony, or a religious leader’s intervention is necessary. The point is that redemption is possible.

The great philosopher Maimonides suggested a simple, rational approach that differed from the above list. It involves three steps: First, recognize what you did wrong and understand why. Second, decide to change your behavior. Third, develop habits that make it easy to avoid erring again.