V’amarta bilvavecha koechi v'otzem yadi asah li es hachayil hazeh.
And you will say in your heart, “My strength and the power of my hand have given me this success.” (Devarim 8:17)
What do you think in your head after you’ve said that in your heart?
You think, you realize, that the strength and the power came from Hashem.
What about you? What was your role in your success?
Hashem gave everyone a vital role in success. It is called b’chira chofshis, the ability to choose what to do with the strength and the power that Hashem provides. Hashem empowers us to succeed impressively. And to fail spectacularly. Aye, there’s the rub.
Until you think of failure differently.
The true test, according to Rav Hutner, is not one’s ability to avoid sin and failure, but developing an appropriate reaction and evaluation of the occurrence of sin.
Such assessment should not happen, writes Rav Hutner, during times of self-doubt and insecurity. Just as Jewish law prohibits judgment during the nighttime, our self-assessment should not occur during times of personal darkness (No. 96). Failure, when properly assessed and integrated, can be a fertile ground for personal and spiritual development.
Rav Hutner’s consoling approach to sin and failure is likely the most enduring perspective contained in the collection of his letters. Yeshiva and seminary students who may have never heard of Rav Hutner or seriously studied his writings have likely been shown or read portions of his 128th letter—his fundamental treatise on sin and failure. The letter, which begins by lamenting the hagiographic nature of rabbinic biographies, reminds a student that greatness does not emerge from the serenity of our good inclinations but from our struggles with our baser tendencies. The verse in Proverbs (24:16), “the righteous fall seven times and stand up” has been perennially misunderstood. It is not despite the fall that the righteous stand up—it is because of the fall that the righteous are able to stand confidently. Greatness does not emerge despite failure; it is a product of failure.
(Dovid Bashevkin, Letters of Love and Rebuke From Rav Yitzchok Hutner, Tablet, October 10, 2016)
The wisest of all men said, The tzaddik will fall seven times and will rise. The unlearned think that this means, Even though a tzaddik falls seven times, he will rise. The wise know well that the meaning is: Because a tzaddik falls seven times, he will rise. (Pachad Yitzchak: Igros u’kesavim, 128)
Yisrael falls and rises, as it says: Do not rejoice, my enemy! Because I have fallen, I rise! [Michah 7:8] It is specifically the falling that is the reason for rising. This is said by Chazal in Makkos 7b, falling is necessary for rising. By way of the falling, the rising is greater. This is also the meaning of a Tzadik falls seven times and rises, for it is specifically due to the falling that the rising occurs. (Pri Tzadik, Nitzavim, 1:1)
But Rabbi Ackerman, sometimes I want to accomplish something and Hashem doesn’t give me the strength and the power that I need. Should I give up?
No, you should first evaluate your goal, make sure it is realistic. Much failure comes from unrealistic goals and expectations. For example, no matter how hard you try, you will never get up early enough and find just the right spot on the beach in California to watch the sun rise over the Pacific. To watch the sun rise over the Pacific you’ll need to go to Asia.
If your goal is realistic and you want Hashem to give you more power, you’ll have to show that you’re ready to use it.
Chazal say... the doer of good is given active assistance. Hashem marshals the forces of nature in his support.
One may wonder, though, that he has good intentions at times, and yet, he does not always feel such divine assistance. Indeed, sometimes he feels held back from carrying out his positive plans! The answer is to try harder. One does not merely gain Divine assistance from a mediocre effort. Meriting this special help requires putting in one's all, as the Alter of Kelm would say, "If you do not apply all of your strength to it, it means that you do not truly want it!"
The Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBitachon 4) states that one must choose what he wants to accomplish, make a concrete resolution, and put all that one has into carrying it out. Only then may one trust that Hashem will enable him to succeed. However, until one has put in the maximum effort, one may not rely on Hashem.
(Gedolei Yisroel On The Parashah & Yamim Tovim, volume 2, page 304)
But I’m not sure I have it in me. I wasn’t born with the talents and the smarts that other people have.
Many successful people were not born with unusual gifts.
To be successful, however, people need not be born gifted. Even ordinary folks can rise to the top, as long as they are willing to commit themselves to doing even ordinary things in an extraordinary fashion. Housewife, student, carpenter, salesman - all must push themselves to do whatever they do in the best way possible. Extra effort in preparation and performance will yield above-average results.
You don't have to be extraordinary. You just have to do whatever it is you are doing, extraordinarily well.
Rabbi Ben Tzion Yadler, the Alter Of Novardok, wrote, “There is no such thing as ‘I cannot.’ What happens is that a person is missing the will and then he fabricates the excuse that he is unable to do it.” [quoted in Betuv Yerushalayim, Page 116]
(One Minute With Yourself, Rabbi Raymond Beyda, page 318)
To encourage your children to invest themselves in the pursuit of success, help them plan for failure.
Invite them to talk about what it is like for them to fail, how to cope with that discomfort rather than being immobilized by the fear of it.
Encourage them to see uncertainty as an adventure, not a deterrent.
Teach them that fear is a source of energy and to channel that energy into forward motion, to embrace it rather than avoiding it.
Make sure you help them up when they fall and remind them that they have earned more strength from Hashem because they tried.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.