DAY 80 - Wake-up Call - The Benefit of Failure
The Steipler Gaon provides a most surprising insight into failure.
One instinctively assumes that there is nothing actually positive about failing.
“I don’t benefit by my failure. It just demands that I pull myself up by the bootstraps and get back to work. My avodas Hashem is not going to improve. Failure is nothing more than an annoyance interfering with growth.”
According to this understanding, when the pasuk in Mishlei states: For the righteous fall seven times and arise, it means that what separates the tzaddik from the rasha is the tzaddik’s persever- ance to keep on getting up, whereas the rasha stays down for the count.
This is certainly true.
But the Steipler tells us something more, something quite shocking:
In fact, it is because he is a tzaddik that he fell down in the first place! He explains that spiritual failures have inherent value.
When it comes to money matters people are never sated. As Chazal say, “One who has $100 wants $200.” But when it comes to ruchniyus we tend to get complacent. As long as we see our spiritual level as stable, we will leave well enough alone. We might even be successful in this maintenance mode ... but eventually, maintenance becomes monotonous, and one’s avodas Hashem can deteriorate into being nothing more than habit.
Failure, states the Steipler, wakes a person up. When one sees that which he has already attained become unhinged and begin slipping away, he works energetically to save himself from further failures.
Let me pause before continuing with the Steipler’s concept.
Inherent in his words is quite a novel idea.
One normally assumes that while the performance of positive commandments )mitzvos asei( must be done with intention and emotion and not out of habit, there is nothing wrong with refraining from an aveirah out of habit. The Steipler tells us otherwise. We have to embrace our plan to avoid aveiros with wholehearted intention! The failure is the wake-up call.
Okay. Back to the Steipler:
He continues that something else is gained by failing. The attention and effort to restore the previous spiritual level can cause one to ultimately reach even greater spiritual heights than he had achieved initially. And this was the very point of the failure. It is a wake-up call to pay attention to your ruchniyus.
The Steipler concludes with the following sobering, yet encouraging words:
Of course, the effort itself is a sacred task even without that eventual spiritual gain. One’s life purpose may be to struggle his entire life.
But in truth, this condition is unlikely to remain forever. Ultimately, one merits siyata d’Shmaya - and due to his struggles he will remain vigilant and conscious of his avodas Hashem even without the motivation of failures.
In summary: Though failures certainly carry the danger of breaking one totally - and one must daven to be saved from this - the failures themselves are a means of growth. For one who bounces back and is careful to keep rising in avodas Hashem has gained immeasurably from the falls.