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Rabbi Yossi's Blog

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What if the Secret to Success is Failure?

The Torah tell us the story of Adam and Eve and the sin of their eating from the Tree of Knowledge. As a result, they were banished from the Garden of Eden. But the narrative related in the Torah seems to hint what Adam and Eve must have realized; that it was all part of G-d’s plan. They were to be given a challenge and they would fail.

In order to learn an important lesson: Sometimes, the secret to success is failure.

The New York Times recently featured an article entitled “
What if the secret to success is failure?” It highlighted the work of two principals of two very different schools in New York and their perspectives on what causes students to be successful in the “real world.” It speaks about character and it discusses failure.

Too many children grow up and go through school with no real experience of failure. Their falls are constantly being padded and their shortcomings constantly being explained away by well meaning teachers or parents. Some schools’ attitude of eliminating academic and sporting competition doesn’t help either.

You may think of this to be a good thing; they’re protected, they’re safe; but in truth an inevitable part of life is failure and we need to develop tools to be able to overcome the failure that we will experience.

Perhaps, that is why G-d caused Adam and Eve to fail, because without failure, Man can never truly reach into the depths of his soul. Only once he has failed, can he return and reach higher and higher without end. Even beyond Eden.

So many people are debilitated by their experience of failure. They fall into a rut that takes many years to get out of... and sometimes they never do.

But the truth is that the secret to success, is failure. Or more accurately, the secret to success is overcoming temporary failure.

So how do we overcome failure and not allow it to overwhelm us?

The most important thing to remember when it comes to overcoming failure is that “this too is for the good”. The Talmud, the timeless source of Jewish wisdom, relates about a sage who was referred to as Nachum Ish Gam Zu because whenever he experienced a set back, no matter how severe, he would say “Gam zu letovah - this too is for the good.”

With this idea in mind, we have to examine the experience that we just endured, what were the causes that led to failure; what could I have done differently. We have to learn to make failure a real catalyst for growth, by regarding failure as a learning opportunity.

Mort Meyerson is a successful businessman. He spent 40 years in business, beginning his career as a computer software programmer trainee at Bell Helicopter, and later achieving the highest executive positions at Electronic Data Systems (EDS).

In 1975, Mr Meyerson was appointed by EDS founder, Ross Perot, to head a recent EDS acquisition: a NYC stock brokerage account. In 1976, Perot shut the operation down due to it’s severe under-performance. Perot flew Meyerson to Dallas, where Mort assumed he'd be fired. Instead of firing him however Perot explained "I just invested MILLIONS of dollars in your executive leadership training. I'm not going to fire you now!"

In 1979, Perot promoted Meyerson to the post of President of EDS.

Failure can be a real catalyst for growth if only we regard failure as a learning opportunity.

In kabbalistic thought there is an expression, “Yeridah letzorech aliyah” - the descent is for the purpose of an ascent. We can move forward step by step or we can jump, but in order to jump we have to crouch down, “yeridah letzorech aliyah” a descent for the purpose of an ascent. To shoot an arrow further you have to create tension in the bow by pulling it further back, “yeridah letzorech aliyah” a descent for the purpose of an ascent.

All of this is nice and good, it makes for an uplifting articlee but often there are obstacles that hold us back from experiencing failure in a constructive manner, instead causing our experience of failure to be destructive.

Too often we allow ourselves to be defined by external influences. By what happens to us, not by who we are. This affects not only the way that others perceive us but also the way we think of ourselves. When we experience failure we often allow ourselves to fall into the trap of allowing that failure to define us.

We think “I am a failure” instead of thinking “I am a successful, talented individual who has experienced a temporary setback.” We must always remember: Temporary failure does not negate previous success.

A common area where we may experience failure is in our job. Society has made our jobs to be much more than they really are. When was the last time that you attended a funeral that the deceased was described as a great engineer or an excellent lawyer. Have you heard of people being memorialized as the best insurance agent or real estate broker? Of course not! We’ll hear of their honesty, or loyalty. We’ll hear of their commitment to their family, their friends and their faith.

It is important to remember all the time but especially when confronting failure that we are not defined by our job. What we do to make a living is different to what we do to make a life. We work to make a living. But to make a life we must love, connect, serve a purpose and find meaning.

So when you experience failure, and you inevitably will, remember the words of Nochum Ish Gam Zu “this too is for the good.” Then think to yourself how will I learn from this experience; how will I turn this failure into a favorable part of my experience. Because failure can be a real catalyst for growth if we only allow our failure to be a learning experience.

And remember sometimes the secret to success is failure.

Money for Israel

A Jew walks into the bakery and orders a bagel. The man behind the counter replies, "A bagel? That's 20 dollars." "20 dollars?! Are you mad!?" "Well, its 1 dollar for the bagel, and 19 dollars for Israel." "Fine. Money for Israel? How can I say no?"

The next day the same guy comes in to the bakery, and orders a challah. The man behind the counter says: "Challah? That's 40 dollars." "Are you insane?!" "Sir, its 5 dollars for the challah and 35 dollars for Israel." The man shrugs his shoulders but he pays the money.

The third day, he comes in and orders a cheesecake. "Cheesecake? 70 dollars." "What?! This is absolutely crazy." "Sir, 10 dollars for the cheesecake, and 60 dollars for Israel." At this point he's had enough. "You are completely mad! This is absolutely absurd and unethical!”

"Sorry sir, I am just following the rules." "I demand to speak to the owner of the store!"

So the clerk goes to the door and calls out: "Hey Israel! Someone wants to talk to you!"

A Yom Kippur Blood Libel in America?

Why do we spend so long in the synagogue on Yom Kippur?

No matter your opinion on one of the big news items this past week, there’s an interesting lesson to be learned. The trial of Amanda Knox has been in the headlines for quite some time and now she’s back home in Seattle.

According to some reports, the first call she received after her acquittal was from OJ Simpson congratulating her for a legal defense job well done.

But let’s try to leave aside personal opinions and projection for just a moment as there’s a lesson to be learned.

On Yom Kippur Jews gather in synagogues around the world and spend almost all their waking hours communicating with G-d. We express our remorse for our missteps over the past year; we ask G-d to forgive us and to grant us a good and sweet New Year.

And then… we repeat.

That’s right; we repeat virtually the same prayers literally hundreds of times. Almost all of the prayers of Yom Kippur reflect the same theme, forgiveness and return to G-d.

Did you ever wonder why we spend so much time repeating the same message over and over again? Wouldn’t it be sufficient to sincerely express our remorse and ask forgiveness once, and then move on to other topics? Why do we need to spend the entire Yom Kippur repeatedly asking forgiveness?

This week’s news helped me realize the answer.

Whether you believe that she’s innocent or not, one thing is certain - she’s been spending many years attempting to gain her acquittal. The gruesome murder of her roommate took place in 2007 and only now, almost 4 years later, has she managed to clear her name.

On Yom Kippur we stand before the Heavenly Court and we attempt to clear our name. More often than not we are “accused” of “offenses” that did occur and we have the arduous task of convincing the court to have the case dismissed due to a technicality; “G-d, please understand that I didn’t properly respect my parents because I was under duress.” Or perhaps we have to demonstrate to the jury that we are truly remorseful in order for them give us a lighter sentence.

When we realize the expense and effort expended on one case, it can help us understand the need to spend significant time and effort on Yom Kippur in order to “clear our name” and be inscribed in the Book of Life.

The good news is that our “state appointed defense team” is the best out there, the great angel Michoel, our forefathers Abraham, Issac and Jacob and our immediate ancestors all come to our aid and help us argue our case before the supreme court on high.

May we all be blessed with a good and sweet New Year!

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