What choices of your past that you cannot fix do you most regret?
This, fundamentally, is the question posed in the Mishna (Chagigah 1:6-7) in today’s daf (Chagigah 9a) – which is prompted by a discussion concerning someone who does not bring a festive offering (שלמי חגיגה) for the entire festival period, to whom we apply the verse: מְעֻוָּת לֹא יוּכַל לִתְקֹן וְחֶסְרוֹן לֹא יוּכַל לְהִמָּנוֹת – ‘what is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted’ (Kohelet 1:15). Based on this, as well as some further interpretations given to this verse in Chagigah 9b, we learn that one of the great regrets of life is not maximizing the opportunities that we have.
Contrasting this, Rabbi Shimon ben Menasiah asserts that an even more stark illustration of this verse can be found when we consider the impact of someone who commits adultery, including a situation when a child is born from such a union. Of course, it is important to emphasize that Judaism values all life no matter the circumstances surrounding how a child is born. However, adultery is a terrible sin whose scars, though rarely visible, run deep and can never fully be healed. From here we learn that the ultimate regret that some people have to live with is the fact that they were disloyal and unfaithful to those who they loved.
Finally, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai approaches this question differently, and instead of speaking about someone who has made choices in their past which they now regret but which they cannot fix, he considers a situation where a Torah scholar or leader to whom we look towards as a role model acts in a manner that is so far from the moral foundations of Torah that it irreparably harms the way many Jews think of Torah scholars and leaders – and as we know, in recent years we have learnt about the immoral behaviour of a number of so-called religious people which has shaken us to our core.
But if the lesson from the first interpretation is that we should maximize the opportunities that we have, and the lesson from the second interpretation is to emphasise the centrality of loyalty and faithfulness in relationships, what is the lesson we can draw from the third interpretation?
I suggest that it is that we should be very careful about who we choose as our religious role-models, and this is because מְעֻוָּת לֹא יוּכַל לִתְקֹן וְחֶסְרוֹן לֹא יוּכַל לְהִמָּנוֹת – ‘what is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted’.