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FAILURE IS AN OPTION

By Rabbi Joseph Dweck

Senior Rabbi of The S&P Sephardi Community

 “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” —Mahatma Gandhi

Over two centuries have passed in our story from the close of Bereshit. Yosef and his brothers have died, and their family of seventy has grown into a plentiful nation. But they are not free in the land in which they have multiplied. Under the whips of taskmasters and whims of a tyrannical king, the people are oppressed and their children buried alive under the stones of the cities that they build. Their spirits are all but extinguished in the bitterness of slavery. It is an epic story of our ancestors who, in the crucible of captivity, yearned for a life of freedom. From under the weight of their labour they called out to the G-d of their fathers hoping for deliverance.

And their pleas for help went up to the Lord from the bondage. (2:23)

G-d hearkened to their cries…G-d listened to the Children of Israel. G-d knew. (2:24-25)

And so began the complex processes necessary to create a nation of free people who could shape their own futures. Freedom is not easily achieved, and it brings with it many dangers that threaten safety. With true freedom the consequences of our actions, no matter how dangerous, are real and they reach us. We allow for vulnerability knowing that when we act freely we will expose ourselves to, and be responsible for, the repercussions, whatever they may be.

One peril that comes with freedom is the threat of failure. With each opportunity for choice and action that a free life brings, there is a possibility of defeat. In this light, it is intriguing that the Bible’s first story about Moshe, the agent of freedom, is one of failure. G-d sends him to negotiate the people’s redemption with Pharaoh. With severe reluctance [1], Moshe finally accepts the job but insists on going about it on his terms. G-d grants Moshe the liberty of choosing his own approach, and that very license facilitates Moshe’s failure. By the end of the parasha, even with all of the special signs that he asks G-d to send him, Moshe loses the negotiation with Pharaoh, and, to add to the pain, Pharaoh doubles the difficulty of the slaves’ labour [2]. As a result, the people lose faith in Moshe, and reject him.

They confronted Moshe and Aharon, stationing themselves to meet them when they came out from Pharaoh. They said to them: ‘May G-d see you and judge you for making our smell reek in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, giving a sword into their hand to kill us!’ (5:20-21)

 Failure is a stepping stone towards success, and an integral element of freedom. One cannot be free without failing. Freedom comes with possibilities and options, and not all options lead to successful ends. When we fear failure, we not only keep ourselves from success, we miss doors that are open to us and we lock ourselves into a life of restriction. Moshe could have protested after his initial misfire and quit the endeavour altogether. Instead, he took responsibility for his choice, and the resulting pain, in order to deliver a proud and free nation.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] 3:11,13; 4:1,10,13.

[2] 5:7-19

 

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