We live in a very unforgiving world where every day, good folks must tiptoe around in near silence or suffer undeserving wrath from the morally officious. A wise midrash taught that in a foot race between truth and falsehood, truth can never overtake falsehood.
There are miserable human beings out there who are indeed thugs, deserving of consequences for their transgressions, but sadly, many innocents are caught up in a web of accusation who are undeserving of their fate. In this season of repentance, for many, there is no forgiveness, even for a distant pettiness that has no business shadowing one through life. Have we entered a place where there is no statute of limitation? No intelligent evaluation of misdeeds, when youthful trespasses become indelible crimes?
Our society has been swept up in an uncompromising pathology that enforces zero tolerance in mindless fashion. Is a tug on a classmate’s braids in an elementary classroom equal to forced assault in a locked office? We grow up. We mature. We learn. Yes. We bumble through childhood, through adolescence and there are egregious actors in our midst whose sins are inexcusable and on their ‘permanent record’, but such miscreants are rare and are appropriately punished. Society abounds with the realization that kids are kids. They do not vote. Drink. Drive cars. View R rated movies. If so, why destroy reputations and ruin lives because of dumb things performed by our younger alter ego?
If such a high-minded charade is pursued, then thumping al chet has no meaning. If no distinction is made between the young and the old. If every offense is judged with equal severity. If, age and circumstance are not considered, then there is no incentive to behave, to grow, to repent. Judaism teaches forgiveness. Teaches there are fresh starts. Teaches that there is a difference between a child and an adult. There is foolishness and felonies. There is stupidity and criminality. And we as a reasonable society had better figure out the difference quickly before background checks require records from the sand box.