to Ponder Number 98
The successful failure
Throughout history some
of the greatest people often failed time after time before they really
made it to the top. Others thought that they had failed but realized
at a later stage in life that what they believed to be failure was
in fact a grand success. Still others never succeeded in the conventional
sense of the word, but became the hallmark of marvelous accomplishments,
sometimes, without ever being aware of it.
When we carefully study
the life of Moshe, we are confronted with a series of failures. Until
his eighties he spent most of his time on the run without getting
anywhere: After a short period of tranquility at the palace of Pharaoh,
Moshe had to run for his life after he killed an Egyptian. He spent
many years in different countries, often hiding from the soldiers
of the Egyptian regime, never enjoying a quiet moment. On other occasions
he continuously failed to make any impression on his surroundings.
There is little doubt that when he reached the age of eighty, just
before God called to him, he must have thought that his life was over
and that is was predominantly wasted. Nothing was accomplished, he
was still the same shepherd trying to obtain some meager food, running
around in circles.
And even after God called to him in his eightieth year, at
the burning bush and he is consequently sent to liberate his people
from the bondage of Pharaoh, his failures seem by far to outdo his
successes: His first encounter with Pharaoh was a complete defeat.
Instead of getting Pharaoh to agree that he should let the Jews have
their freedom, Moshe's audience with Pharaoh caused a stiffening of
the latter's heart and his fellow Jews were now doomed to work even
harder. Each time after a major plague, Moshe was convinced that his
goal was achieved and now he would be able to take the Jews
out. A little later he discovered that Pharaoh had once more changed
his mind and again Moshe's high hopes were crushed.
In the desert he encounters one rebellion after the other. The Jews
blame him for all sorts of crimes and even demand to return to Egypt.
After the debacle of the golden calf God tells him that He will destroy
this people. No doubt Moshe must have felt that he had completely
failed to educate his people to avert such a terrible transgression.
Still later, after he sends emissaries to the land to "spy"
the land, he is told that he will have to walk around in circles and
spend another 39 years in the desert! On another occasion his opponent
Korach desires to undermine his authority, and Moshe's is nearly murdered
by his own people. And then there is the great fiasco whereby Moshe
ignores the exact instruction of God and instead of speaking to the
stone in order produce water, he smites it and consequently hears
that he will never be allowed to enter the land of Israel. This devastating
news must have worked as the final blow to all his expectations. Now
that he was not allowed to fulfill his greatest dream, of living in
the land, he must have felt that "it was all over" and that
all his good intentions and deeds were of little value.
That he would become the
greatest Jew of all time, that his name would be immortalized in Scripture
and that it would be on the lips of millions and millions of people
for thousands of years, probably never entered his mind. Indeed he
may never have known what an eminent man he really was and that there
would never be a person who could come close to his heels as far as
accomplishments are concerned.
What was Moshe's secret
that enabled him to continue in spite of everything to fight for his
goals and succeed where so many others would have failed?
The answer is simple: he knew how to lose. He knew that his
failures were in fact the building stones of his future successes.
While he may never have known what his accomplishments were, he continued
to fight and ultimately prevailed.
He who lies on the ground cannot fall, says a Yiddish proverb
and many who are the most critical of those who failed do not realize
that they themselves never left the ground. Those who never fail,
never accomplish since defeat is the necessary step to success. The
famous American philosopher Paul Tillich once remarked: "The
awareness of the ambiguity of one's highest achievements as well as
one's deepest failures is a definite symptom of maturity."
Above anything else one
has to ask oneself what real success is all about. Let us draw
an example from the world of a fitness center. This site consists
of a large hall filled with many pieces of equipment which could take
us on long journeys.
There are bicycles, which go nowhere, no matter how hard we peddle.
There are rowing boats but no water, skies without snow and even climbing
frames on which you can climb for hours without getting any higher.
Still, you will find lots of people throughout most of the day working
hard in the fitness center but getting nowhere. This however does
not sadden them. In fact many return next week and try again. The
reason is obvious: Success with such equipment is not measured in
how far you get but how much you gain in making your body more
healthy from within. Externally is seems that there is no success
whatsoever but inwardly the human being is growing tremendously. The
superficial viewer may draw the conclusion that the cyclist, the mountain-climber
and the rower are all failures. The wise man smiles and knows that
they are great winners.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
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