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What’s So Great About Failure?

What’s So Great About Failure?

Rewriting Your Own Script

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We need failure. The world is designed in such a way that people can fail—and fail so often. So often that at times it seems there is more failure than success.

We all need failure. Failure, you see, is the only way you can fall out of the script.

Yes, that’s frightening. Your very essence is intrinsically bound with this script. The script is the primordial thought of G‑d, of a breath of Himself descending into the constrictions of a physical body with earthly drives, of that breath reaching back up to its origin and carrying all the world along with it—it was within this script that your soul was originally conceived.

Failure, you see, is the only way you can fall out of the script.

And now, instead of reaching up to Him, what if you decide to reach downward into the darkness? What if, instead of repairing His world, you bring it into yet further confusion? What if, instead of rescuing divine sparks, you bury them yet further?

That’s not what your soul is about, or what it came here for. That’s not in the script—not for your soul, not for the world in which it was invested. What now?

Now, even if you go back to do all the right things, back to fixing and connecting, you’ll still be left with a gaping hole, an absence of light where light should have been, a gaping wound festering with chaos where tikkun was meant to come, and nothing in the script to address that hole—since that emptiness, that chaos was never meant to be.

So now G‑d looks down, shakes His head and says, “Well, I guess now you’re going to have to write your own script.”

Which you do. You take your life in your hands and turn it around. You say, “I don’t like what I did. I’m not going to be that person anymore.” And you carry that plan into action.

Just Do It

The word for this in Hebrew is teshuvah תשובה, which means “return.” It also means taking ownership of your own life.

Distraught and wearied by his journeys, the young man finally came to the tzaddik Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, and cried bitterly, “Rabbi, I sinned! The worst sins! How do I do teshuvah? I went to many rabbis, but none could help me!”

“And before you sinned,” the rabbi asked, “did you ask anyone for advice how to do that?”

“No,” he confessed, “I just sinned.”

“So just do teshuvah,” the rabbi replied, “the same way you just sinned.”

Meaning: Just as your failure was not scripted for you, but was purely from you alone, so too your teshuvah can come only from you alone.

No one returns because they were told to do so. At the point of return, you revolve by your power alone.

No one returns because they were told to do so. At the point of return, you revolve by your power alone.

Out of Nowhere

From where did that script come? From where did you get that power? When G‑d thought of your soul, He didn’t see it there. Which means it wasn’t anywhere else in the whole of creation, or in the Creator’s concept of creation. Where was it? It never was. It never emerged from the nothingness into being.

Which means that when you go ahead after doing this crazy mess-up and write your own script, you are reaching back deeper than the place from whence your soul was breathed, reaching deeper and pulling something out from there that never was. From that place we call ha’atzmut—the core essence of G‑d.

The term for this place is he’elem ha’atzmi, which means “the intrinsically hidden.” Call it, if you will, G‑d’s subconscious. After all, consciousness is not G‑d. G‑d exists before there is anything at all, including consciousness. If we would call it that, then we would say that by getting it right you can reach into G‑d’s consciousness, but no further. But when failure befalls you, then by picking yourself back up, you reach to a place the perfectly righteous could never know.

Which explains the statement of the rabbis, “In the place where stands the one who has failed and returned, the perfectly righteous are incapable of standing.” Of course they can’t stand there. For them, it doesn’t even exist.

The Good, the Bad and the Very Good

How is the soul capable of reaching there through teshuvah? Because that is truly its place.

For ultimately, this soul, this breath of G‑d, begins before the script begins, before existence begins, in the utter darkness and mystery we called G‑d’s subconscious. Now to that place it returns, back to its ultimate origin, before it crossed the threshold of being to become a conscious thought.

What about the repair of the world you were supposed to make? What happens to those lost sparks your soul was meant to find?

With your return, they return along with you. The past is transformed as well, since you have reached to a place beyond time. And yet deeper, sparks that could never have been reached directly, those that were tied down and bound by the forces of darkness, and therefore prohibited—you have reached to them and now carry them upwards.

Now, even the past is redeemed.

Yet even that is not enough. Writing a new script means you need to accomplish something entirely new. And you do. Because now not only the spark is redeemed; even the darkness it generated is transformed to light.

“And G‑d saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

“Good,” say the sages, refers to the capacity to do good. “Very good” includes the capacity to fail. To fail and then to do good. And that is “very good”—beyond anything the script could have contained.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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nicole TX December 15, 2014

what happens what happens when you feel like your life is trapped and chained down to an obscure suffocating bubble where all you can feel is a strong external misery even though no matter what you do, in the depth of your soul you feel an almost never ending hope and comfort?

what happens when things are not logical and/or nightmarishly unfair?

what happens when, superficially, everything is considered " fine " and avoided- but when taken into your own hands, your own soul, everything is far far far away from " fine "? Reply

YY Israel April 11, 2014

To Rosie: Those recorded instances are on a deeper level, I believe, presenting us with the cracks in the world that happened through time. We through the generations have to work to repair those sins and mistakes from the past. (See "Basi Legani.") Reply

Rosie Ramat Hasharon, Israel October 18, 2012

Failure out of the script If failing entails writing your own script as opposed to the G-d intended script, then how could SCRIPTure document so many major instances of failure and its consequences, starting with the eating of the forbidden fruit and continuing through the sin of the golden calf, and the sin of the spies? In these and numerous kindred instances failure and its aftermath constitute the content of the script. Reply

Anonymous bklyn, NY October 18, 2012

re: you're a success Wow! To hear such words from someone, just commenting to someone you never met...

It gives me a strong feeling of connection. Reply

Dr. Edward Trimmier Spartanburg, South Carolina October 17, 2012

Failure & Transformation Yes, that is the " isness of the thisness " whereby the darkness of failure is transformed to light as G-d intended. This is the process that works in this dimension as G-d intends. The original and eternal spark overcomes,G-d wins. Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY/USA October 17, 2012

"no one returns because they were told to do so .. If "no one returns because they were told to so," why does Isaiah (31:6) quote God as telling his children to return? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 17, 2012

the script actually it is All Scripted. G-D does NOT play dice with the universe. I can actually prove this, so mistakes are actually part of a greater cosmic story and I think about this when I am on Great Plain Avenue locally. We live on planes of existence, meaning there are depths to even everyday life. Planes in carpentry shave away at layers. Life is deeply layered, a many splendored thing. What is plain is on this level we must learn to
act with a ladder of ethical choice and when we fall off the ladder hopefully we get back on. But G-d does govern consciousness or we could not engage in this most astounding dance. Sorry. Massive provable coincidence which I record daily tells me this is true. Brave New World. It's ALL G-D! Reply

Anonymous Copenhagen, Denmark. October 17, 2012

to do good again. amen. Reply

christopher beeker costa mesa, USA October 17, 2012

Addicts Need Redemption. Shame, guilt and knowledge of our past wrongs, sometimes cause unbearable burdens, even to the point of suicide, for those who feel they are trapped forever under this heavy mental load. Thank you again Rabbi Freeman for pointing out the path we need to take and the discourse on this page. Reply

Redneck Jew ca October 15, 2012

Thank You Rabbi Freeman I never thought about it like that. I guess when when we are broken it is easier to empathise with others and help them with their issues. When my carreer was at it's peak it was hard for me to see where past other's faults because of the rough roads I had already came through. Another thing that I got from this article was to simply return to where you were. Reply

Anonymous BROOKLYN October 14, 2012

thank you to all of you who commented on my blog I really appreciate all of you who gave me feedback. It truly gives me tremendous chizuk. I especially want to thank annoymous who was so passionate about giving me support. I smiled from ear to ear reading it. I really felt a deep connection to those words. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman via mychabad.org October 14, 2012

Re: Soul Origins Thanks, Bewildered, for bringing that up. It's hard to fit everything into a short essay, so it's fortunate that we have Reader Comments to fill in a little more.

I tried to distinguish between conception and "beginning." Think of conception as being G-d's actualization of a world, beginning with the plan for how it is to go, something like the concept paper for a new project. But the concept itself reflects something much deeper, something that is not spelled out in that concept paper, the subliminal intent that lies beneath this entire plan.

If that inner intent would not be held at the subliminal level, we would have no free choice, no input. It would be part of the script.

But now that it is put aside before conception, as the creation unfolds over time, that subliminal intent eventually rises to the foreground. The soul, as it writes its own script, discovers its essential root, beyond its conception.

Oy, look, I'm trying... Reply

Anonymous Far Rockaway, NY October 14, 2012

You're A Success You're not a failure! So many people have died from anorexia, and yet you have lived. Please, please, PLEASE don't give up. The Jewish people desperately need you!! You are destined to do some pretty amazing wonderful things in your life, to have wonderful children and grandchildren someday who will light up the world! Don't deny the rest of us the tremendous blessings that will come from you - that ARE as we speak coming from you right now! So many people in the future will say they owe their very lives to you, as you will one day become a beacon of hope to others desperately struggling to break free from anorexia. You're such a success right now, and you're destined to become an even greater success! We ALL need you. Don't give up! Reply

Eli D. UK October 14, 2012

Rewriting our own Script: solo voices I really enjoyed this discussion, R. Freeman.
Sometimes i catch myself wondering, in our modern world, just what is 'success'? (&, truly, what is 'failure'?) Yes, but then, inevitably something occurs in our world that clearly reminds me what 'success' is. Success is standing by one's mission. When i am lucid i remember that temptation is that which causes us to be lukewarm to Torah, Mitzvah & to Prayer. Today, there are those souls, like Malala Yousafzai, a young girl in Pakistan who was recently shot by the Taliban in her native Pakistan, for her outspoken support of women (& girls') education.
Concerning those tribes who may be praying/worshiping polyistic god systems ...

... Can individiauls be held responsible for their gov'ts attempts to establish potentially negative 'new world orders'?

... sometimes i feel i've awakened to & blinked & here we are ... living in Noah's time, again. Thanks for your writings & inspirations. Reply

Michelle UK October 14, 2012

@ Annonymous, BROOKLYN ps. i just popped 'anorexia' in the chabad search bar above. maybe if you feel guided they might help you too? for all i know is we are all uniquely special and when you ask - G-d points His finger and shows us the answer for ourself. all the best. xx Reply

Michelle UK October 14, 2012

@ Annonymous, BROOKLYN YOU make all our sharing worthwhile. thankyou for choosing life! i read this article and loved it too but i loved it more when i read what you wrote. G-d bless you on your return and on the path with Him you choose. (( <3 )) hugs Reply

Bewilderered Toronto, Canada October 14, 2012

Soul Origins Brilliantly written, but I've "failed" to understand. Rabbi Freeman wrote: "it was within this script that your soul was originally conceived," but later, "this soul, this breath of G‑d, begins before the script begins, before existence begins."
I am confused. Where, then, IS the soul's origin? "within the script," or "before"--higher than the script?? Reply

Anonymous bournemouth October 14, 2012

Dear Anonymous BROOKLYN, after reading the article it was my intention to reread it to better understand it, but it would of took a long time if at all been possible for me to put into words as well as you did the essence of it, and to raise the question of how it might deal with what you are going through. So in other words you have could perhaps write about what you have been through/going through? I wish you all the best and speedy recovery. Reply

christopher beeker costa mesa, ca. October 14, 2012

Beautiful! This story resonates for those caught up in addictions. What appears to us as a hopeless transgression is yet to be written into a beautiful process of return to G-d. Imagine the shamed and guilt ridden addict standing in a place that even the righteous cannot stand. This process of returning to G-d is an Holy act. Reply

lzroche NY October 14, 2012

Does failure exist? The wisdom of the Rabbi:" So just do teshuvah"... I must say if the Rabbi were truly to return to the old ancient tribal lifestyles - what a wisdom that would be - it would share that failure is a concept of the human mind within its own framework of values. Does failure exist? Does sin exist?(sin is a catholic/christian/islamic concept how did that get into Judaism- disobedience is a Judaic concept not sin. A slave must obey.......) Or is it simply - as per old ancient tribal lifestyles - that we grow in thevalleys not on the mountain tops? Shabbat Shalom Reply

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