Shifting the Blame

Let's face it, failure is no fun. At least not usually. What if there would be a way to completely turn off the self-flagellation that comes with failure? What if there would be a way of looking at things that actually could turn failure into opportunity?

The well-known coach of entrepreneurs, Dan Sullivan, likes to refer to previous business failures as "research and development." I love that approach, because it sees life as one big learning process. That is a powerful Torah perspective as well! A great sage, Rabbi Shalom Schwadron, zt"l, told an innocent story of a walk-through Jerusalem to straight this point. He passed a couple of elderly people sitting at a bus stop, counting the number of #21 buses that passed. Then, he arrived at the Torah study hall, and saw a couple of elderly people discussing the nuances of the Talmud. There you have it.

But Sullivan's approach, with all of its brilliance, still requires you to deal with transforming failure into opportunity. The Torah approach I will share will do that without any mental effort whatsoever. It's hidden in a couple of verses in the latter part of Deuteronomy.

"You, all, stand this day before the Lord your God." The Hasidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitschak of Berditchev, focuses on the word "before." Within that Hebrew word "lifne," is the word for "face," "pne." When we face God, God faces us. What, exactly, does that mean?

Rabbi Levi Yitschak explains. God deeply wants to do kindness with humanity. He does not relish or enjoy bringing punishment. When one wishes to do something, they turn their face to it. Distasteful tasks, however, are done while looking somewhat away.

Therefore, says the Rabbi, when we stand before, or in the face of, God, we are in the ideal position to receive endless blessing! When does one person look to another? Why, when the other looks to them. All we need to be doing is looking heavenward, all the days of our lives. God then looks to us, and bestows His endless blessings.

On the last day of Moses's life, he walks to the Israelites in order to speak with them. Rabbi Levy Yitschak notices the unusualness of this, for one would expect the Israelites to walk to Moses. Further, Moses's last prophecy is uncharacteristically cryptic. Until this point, whenever Moses spoke, it was crystal clear. The section beginning "Listen, O heavens, and I shall speakā€¦" is more characteristic of the later prophets, who spoke in highly sophisticated poetic terms.

The Rabbi explains that, on this last day of his life, the level of Moses's prophecy went down. He was no longer the master of prophecy, who could speak to God on his own terms and whenever he wished. Now, he was dependent on God to bestow His prophecy, just as the latter prophets would be.

With this, the Rabbi explains two ways of describing the task of leading the congregation at prayer. The Talmud uses two phrases: 1. to pass before the ark, or 2. to descend before the ark. What is the difference? Ark, in Hebrew, can also mean "word. The greater righteous person is master of the word, while the lower level righteous person is not. The former has access to God's word at any time, so he "passes before the ark-word." The latter is the passive recipient at the time of God's choosing, so he "descends beneath the ark-word".

Moses, on this day, was no longer the master of the word. Nonetheless, at every moment his face was to the Lord. He was not embittered by his sudden descent, he was not personally hurt by his inability to enter into the Holy Land. Instead, he walked to the people in order to encourage them to accept Joshua's leadership, and follow his successor into the Land. He could have blamed the Israelites for causing him to sin by provoking him to smite the rock (instead of speaking to it, which caused him to be punished by not entering the land).

He didn't. Whether he was passing before the word, or descending before the word, his gaze and attention were completely focused on God. And, so, any earthly failure fades into insignificance. When God bestows His manifold blessings, nothing else matters. Everything is not only forgiven, but transformed!

The path to true success in life, to endless blessing, is to never take one's gaze off of The Holy One, Blessed Be He. When we do that, earthly failures lose their power over us. Instead of using our energies to assign blame for them, we use them to connect to God and thus lift ourselves far above them.