We read in Parashat Shemini of Moshe’s angry reaction upon seeing that one of the sacrifices offered on the day of the Mishkan’s inauguration – the goat offered as a sin-offering – was not eaten as required (10:16). Moshe scolded Aharon and his two sons for neglecting to eat the sacrificial meat, and Aharon then explained that he and his sons were unable to eat this meat because of the tragic death of his two older sons that day. Rashi, based on the Gemara (Zevachim 101a), explains that the meat of this sacrifice (as opposed to other sacrifices offered that day) was forbidden to be eaten in a state of aninut (mourning on the day of a family member’s passing). Therefore, Aharon and his two younger sons, who had just suffered the shocking, tragic death of the two older sons, where not permitted to partake of this sacrifice. The Torah concludes this story by relating, “Moshe heard, and was pleased” (10:20). Rashi, citing again from the Gemara (there in Zevachim), comments, “He confessed and was not ashamed to say, ‘I did not hear [the law]’.”
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz noted the significance of the Gemara’s observation, that Moshe readily admitted his error. Certainly, we would not have expected Moshe to allow his ego to stand in the way of honesty, and to prevent him from conceding that his criticism was misplaced, and Aharon and his sons acted correctly. However, Moshe may have thought it proper to stand his ground and refuse to admit his mistake in order not to undermine his status of authority as the communicator of the divine law. He might have feared that his confession of error in a halakhic matter could lead the people to question the accuracy of all the information he conveyed to them in God’s Name. But Moshe understood that this fear did not justify dishonesty, and so he humbly and honestly confessed his mistake, and acknowledged that he was in error.
Rav Shmuelevitz added that not only did this confession not undermine Moshe’s authority as communicator of God’s law, but it bolstered his stature in the people’s eyes. The people saw Moshe’s impeccable honesty and pristine humility, how ego played no role in his handling his role as leader, halakhic authority and teacher. This example of integrity raised the people’s esteem and admiration for Moshe, and reinforced their trust in the truthfulness of everything he taught them. Humbly acknowledging mistakes earns greater respect, not less. When people see that one is honest and real, that his intentions are sincere, and not aimed at self-promotion or building some kind of reputation, they are more likely to give him their trust and take his words of guidance and instruction seriously.