Sunday, September 10, 2017

Failing Better (Nitzavim-Vayelech)

Faith and failure are not mutually exclusive.

In the second half of this week’s double Torah portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, God calls us to faith and courage: “Be strong and brave.  Do not fear or be dismayed, for the Eternal your God goes with you.”

What comforting words!  We feel our spirits lift as the Holy One esentially tells us: “You can do it.  You will be taken care of and supported.  You are not alone.”

And yet, just a few verses later, God says to Moses: “Behold, you are about to die and this nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations of the land into which they are coming.  And they will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them.”  How fatalistic!  God may be with us, yet we are doomed to miss the mark.

At first glance, this seems like a profoundly confused, mixed message: Go forth with courage—and then you’ll fail?

Yet upon reflection, this is the paradoxical truth at the heart of our human experience, especially in this fall holy day season.  As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we conduct our spiritual inventory and commit to making positive changes in the year ahead—even though we know that we will frequently fall short of our ideals and expectations.  We need both sides of this equation: realism about our inevitable shortcomings and the moral fortitude to keep on trying to transform ourselves.  As Samuel Beckett famously wrote: “Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”

L’shanah Tovah—May we all fail better in the coming new year.

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