Parshat Vayera: Exodus 6:2-9:35; Ezekiel 28:25-29:21.
In the words of Thomas Edison, “I haven’t failed; I have found 10,000 ways it will not work.”
Failure is often a necessary outcome toward success, not something that should be feared. Sometimes a leap of faith and action is required, and that is something that is beyond the Israelites in this week’s parsha.
When Moshe presents God’s message to the Israelites, they do not listen to him because they are being kotzer ruach, or “short-spirited” due to their reality of cruel, daily bondange. Moshe and God are unproven quantities to the Israelites, who in their despair are incapable of mustering the basic level of fortitude required to have hope.
Their shortness of spirit also infects Moshe even though he has seen evidence of God’s power with his own eyes. He questions God regarding not even having the buy-in of his own people; why should Pharaoh listen to him? The people’s lives do not meaningfully improve, and it is telling that we see evidence of members of Pharaoh’s court showing respect and fear of God before the plague of hail before we see evidence of the Israelites being able to accept Moshe and God.
Self-defeating behaviors are not new. Whether it’s a student waiting until the last minute to begin a major project or a professional waiting until the day of a presentation to prepare, our choices have a tremendous and meaningful influence on our own experiences of reality.
In some cases, this is a deliberate behavior to avoid disappointment when someone feels that their work will not be “good enough;” they choose to effectively sabotage their own work rather than face the potential for disappointment from their work not earning the praise they feel entitled to. The reasoning of “if I haven’t really tried, then I haven’t really failed” can be compelling.
Failure is a learning experience in which we can grow in ways that are meaningful and necessary, if not necessarily the way we want or had hoped. Not trying does not guarantee failure, but rather stagnation and paralysis.
Let us meet exhaustion with compassionate care and kindness, so that it doesn’t reach the place our ancestors were in of being kotzer ruach. Let us always reach out with compassion to meet people where they are, accepting that even if they’re not in a place to fully partner with us, we will continue to do the work that needs to be done. Let us never fear failure, but embrace the learning and growth that come from always putting in our best work.
Rabbi Jeremy Yoskowitz is a Jewish Studies instructor at Frankel Jewish Academy as well as a chaplain and ethics consultant for Beaumont Health.