In Egypt, we were held back from liberation for 210 years. Our entire nation stood at the Sea, Pharaoh’s army at our back. Moshe cried out to Hashem. G-d sneered at him: “What are you doing crying out to Me right now!”
We were surrounded, and seemingly isolated. There was nothing but failure at every turn. Some pleaded to surrender. Others suggested mass suicide.
One man stood up. After two centuries of degradation of his people, he refused to quit. Failure was a possibility, despair was unacceptable. He charged the water. He walked till the sea went up to his knees. Then he continued. He walked until the water reached his shoulders. Even as the sword of the sea touched his neck he looked to G-d boldly as if to say, I will not give up on the mission You commanded me!
He kept on walking.
The waters split.
Rebbe Nachman recounts: All of the obstacles that a person encounters are solely for the sake of desire – that is, in order that he should have a greater desire for the holy thing that he wished to do. For it is human nature that the more a person is held back from doing something the more he desires to do it.
Redemption, whether national or personal, is won with nerve. Just ask any Israeli. In my case, ask any Jew who has been blessed with the immeasurable merit of having become Israeli.
The righteous fall seven times, the wicked fall but once. (Proverbs 24:16)
I always thought King Solomon’s words referred to the weak. The wicked fall once because they never get back up. They decide that their own success doesn’t require toil, Emunah, or ethics. The take the easy way out by doing it “on their own terms.”
I was wrong.
The wicked fall because Hashem gives them success. There is an angel in Heaven who prays for every Jewish man, woman, and child to be lavishly rich. Which angel asks G-d for this? The angel of death.
If it happens too soon, wealth and success can be the worst curse. The wicked fall because they no longer feel the need to try. They have put in their pockets all they were after. They don’t grow. They don’t learn. They don’t enjoy the great gains made from personal suffering. They conclude that the effort is a fool’s errand and do whatever they can to achieve the one thing that matters: results.
Read the Talmud – if you can. There is nothing in that Magnum Opus which has anything to do with results. It is an ongoing exercise in exertion. It is not the answers that matter. It is how we grow while getting there which establishes the foundation of our Jewish Identity.
The righteous have to fail. Those who sincerely want Hashem have to fail. They have to try harder. They have to fall again. They have to formulate a foolproof plan, where there is no human way to fall – and then defy the odds and fail just to acknowledge that it is not they who determine success in this world.
They have to give up. They have to decide that another day of exertion is just not worth it. Only when their spirit is broken can they overwhelm the laws of nature by getting up and trying again.
Only after a life of constant failure can we build up the growth, determination, and desire not only to succeed, but to achieve greatness with that success once received.
Take a look at some of the colossal failures of all time. There was Abraham Lincoln. He was a congressman for two years – which was twice the amount of time he spent in school. Beyond that one election, he never won a thing until he became president. He was so determined in succeeding as a lawyer, an orator, and a leader that by the time it all happened he had the courage to guide a nation through its most terrifying hour and restore it to greatness.
How about Joseph HaTzaddik? He spent ten years in jail from the deeds of his own brothers. Divine Prophecy didn’t even secure his release. After correctly interpreting the dreams of the royal cup-bearer and baker – he still had to languish in prison for two additional years. What about Moshe? He spent most of his life in exile because he was informed upon by his own nation.
What about that Nation, the Jewish People? We could have merited Moshiach at Sinai but we blew it. The First Temple could have been the eternal one but we blew it again. Most historians agree that we did have the capacity to defeat the Romans, but we were too busy fighting each other.
To break the bonds of our destiny we have to charge forward. To break the bonds of our lives we have to want growth. We have to want greatness. Especially during our darkest moments in life, we have to form a clear definition of what we believe our mission is on this earth and scream to Hashem:
I will not give up. No matter how many waves of uncertainty and doubt crash upon me, I will continue to go forward. I will fulfill my mission in life and nothing You send my way is going to stop me.
G-d doesn’t want mere effort. He wants determination. He desires a holy boldness so defiant, so resolute, we will never let Heaven or earth get in the way of what we are here to accomplish. To make it we have to be a stiff-necked people.
What is it that we want most in life? What are the tasks we have given up on? What are the things we have been yearning for the most that feel perpetually beyond our reach?
These are the impossible missions Hashem wants us to complete. These are the battles He commissioned His legions of Darkness to prevent us from winning solely to see just how hard we will fight.
Could there be clearer evidence of how close we are to the finish line of time than the frequency of impurities and darkness that surround us at every turn?
We have been failures for two thousand years. Can one imagine the supernal desire for Redemption that is burning inside us right now?
Dovber Halevi is the author of Sex, Religion, and the Middle East, a book about personal holiness and happiness. He lives in Israel with his wife and three children.