Do you know the sinking feeling that comes when you try to discourage someone from doing something wrong, but it backfires and actually convinces them to do it? Suppose your son is making terrible friends and in trying to explain why they are bad for him, you say something to anger him and he joins them to spite you. You blame yourself; you can’t stop regretting your words and wonder what you might have said differently.

Suppose your friend is planning a marital infidelity and you argue against it by touting the values of a true marriage. Unbeknownst to you, you end up highlighting something that your friend has always resented about her spouse and it becomes her motivation for infidelity.
You feel guilty and blame yourself. You tell yourself that it’s as if you encouraged your son to join the gang or your friend to betray her spouse. You tell yourself these things because that is what your son or friend keep telling you, but guess what, they are both wrong. They want you to believe it because that helps them believe it too and they want to believe it because it deflects blame from themselves.
Fact is that you didn’t commit the sin, they did. It is only natural for you to blame yourself, but remember that they would have committed their sin with or without you. If you hadn’t provided the excuse, they would have found another excuse or did it without an excuse.
Not only are you not to blame, you did something commendable. You tried to dissuade them and for that you receive credit. You believe you used the wrong words, but how were you to know the right words, can you read their minds and anticipate their reaction to everything you say? They were good words and you said them with the right intentions. You meant well and that is a good deed.
I will take it one step further. Not only were your words not the catalyst for their sins, your words will one day have a positive effect. They will become the catalyst for their regret and return to righteousness. Our sages taught that when we make a sincere effort for a good cause, we can rest assured that our efforts will bear fruit. It may take a while, even years, but ultimately they will come to good fruition.
You might never learn of the positive impact your words achieved, but don’t underestimate them. They might not have prevented this particular sin, but they will help them avoid other pitfalls later in life. If your words came from your heart, they will enter their heart and have a positive effect.
We learn this from the story of Aaron and the Golden Calf. When rabble-rousers among the Jews approached Aaron with a demand for an idol to replace Moses, he invited them to bring their gold. His intentions were noble, he didn’t believe the Jews would part with their gold, but they backfired when the people delivered the gold. Aaron built a fire hoping to smelt the gold, but again his efforts backfired as a calf pranced out of the fire.
Aaron insisted that as High Priest, only he could build an altar for the calf. Aaron tarried all night praying that Moses would return before the altar was complete, yet the altar was finished before dawn. By the time Moses returned from Sinai, the pagan celebrations were in full swing.
Aaron couldn’t forgive himself for enabling the sin. Though his intentions were pure, his efforts had backfired and he felt responsible. How surprised Aaron was when Moses returned from Sinai several months later to declare that G-d had forgiven the sin, invited the nation to build a Tabernacle and that Aaron would be High Priest.
Aaron was certain that Moses was mistaken. How could he have been granted such an honor when he didn’t deserve it? Sure enough on the inaugural day, Aaron was meant to offer his first sacrifice, but he hesitated, doubting that his efforts would please G-d. Moses proclaimed, “This is G-d’s commandment, perform it and G-d will reveal His glory. Approach the altar, carry out your sin offering and burnt offering and you will atone for yourself and for the nation.”
Our sages explained that Aaron saw the image of a bull standing atop the altar and was both afraid and ashamed. Moses said to him, “Aaron, why are you afraid, you were chosen for this.”
A careful reading of this tale will yield a question. Aaron was afraid and ashamed, yet Moses only addressed his fear. He told him not to be afraid because G-d chose him to be High Priest. Why didn’t Moses address Aaron’s shame?
It is difficult to suppose that Moses ignored Aaron’s shame completely so we seek a response to Aaron’s shame in Moses’ words. The fear is clearly addressed by the words, “why are you afraid,” but perhaps the shame is addressed by the words, “you were chosen for this.” Moses was saying, Aaron don’t be ashamed about your role in the Golden Calf. It was precisely because of that role that you were chosen.”
You know why G-d chose you to be High Priest? Because you shielded the nation from greater spiritual harm by putting yourself into the breach. You didn’t succeed in preventing the sin entirely, but that isn’t your fault. They were dead set on committing the sin. But you did shield them from further harm. If not for your actions, they might have begun their celebrations much earlier and by the time I arrived the damage would have been irreparable.
G-d consented to forgive the Jews and invite them to build His tabernacle because managed to contain the sin. Had you not done what you did, the sin would have been so egregious as to be unforgiveable. G-d is not mad at you. On the contrary, He is proud of you. He appointed you High Priest to reward you. Don’t be ashamed to be High Priest on account of your role in the Golden Calf. It was precisely because of the role you played that you were chosen to be high priest.
Aaron blamed himself for the sin of the Jews because his efforts backfired and he failed to stop them. Further, he believed that his actions triggered the sin. In truth, Aaron was not held to task for the sins of the Jews and, on the contrary, was rewarded for his role. Further, his efforts did in fact succeed in subtle ways and were a catalyst for G-d forgiving the Jews.
We can take a lesson from Aaron’s book and understand the same for ourselves. When you struggle to help another make the right choice and the other ends up making the wrong choice, don’t blame yourself. Further, our efforts will certainly bear fruit. It might take time and the fruit might be subtle, but if we meant our words sincerely, they will surely penetrate and bring good results.

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