Growth is only possible if we subject ourselves to vulnerability. If we refuse to leave our comfort zone, we will never have new experiences or discover new abilities.

Think of a crab. It can’t grow a new shell ifIf we refuse to leave our comfort zone, we will never have new experiences it remains tucked into the old one, but as the crab grows, it requires a larger casing. So, it chucks its old one, burrows itself into soft sand to escape potential danger, and grows a new one.

While between shells, the crab experiences profound vulnerability, yet it doesn’t shy away from what must be done in order to grow. We too must take social and spiritual risks in order to grow. To climb, we must risk the possibility of falling, but we put ourselves in G‑d’s hands and move forward.

All Alone

This week’s Torah portion references the expectant mother, “When a woman conceives and gives birth...”

From conception to birth is a long road, sometimes painful but also delightful. There is a time, however, when the mother is completely oblivious to the baby’s existence. From when the baby is conceived until the mother realizes that she is pregnant, she is unable to actively care for her baby. For the fetus, this is a time of immense vulnerability.

As Kind David wrote, “For my father and my mother abandoned me, yet G‑d gathered me in.” (Psalm 27). Rashi explains that David is referring to the long hours that elapsed between the time his parents conceived him and the time that they became aware of his existence. They both went to sleep, oblivious to the fetus they had just created.

The fetus has no awareness during this time, but the soul does. David, a soulful man, keenly aware of the trauma his soul experienced during that time and the impact it exerted on his life, marveled that the trauma did not result in a sense of emotional abandonment and insecurity. He marveled over his courage and bravery. And he understood why.

He recognized that he was not really alone. Although his mother and father knew nothing of his existence, G‑d was at his side. G‑d had gathered him in. This thought consoled David throughout his life: Surely if G‑d was there for me during the abject terror and vulnerability of my seminal days, G‑d is here for me today.

The Missing Letter

What does G‑d do for us during our time of vulnerability?

King David built an acrostic into Psalm 145, using all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order, with the noticeable exception of the letter nun because the word nofel, “fall,” begins with it.

King David did not want to create a theme out of falling, so he skipped that letter, but he mentioned it in the successive line, “G‑d supports the fallen,” to teach us that when we fall, we don’t break. Falling is just a different form of progress.

You can’t climb unless you learn how to fall and pick yourself up. You can’t make good decisions if you haven’t made bad ones from which you have learned. When we fall, we haven’t failed. We are giving G‑d a framework in which to lift us up; a vulnerability that He can support.

In our times of vulnerability, G‑d doesn’t take away our challenges, He gives us the tools to overcome them.

On the first Saturday night of creation, the sun set and darkness fell. Never having experienced darkness before, Adam and Eve did not know what to do. It was a time of terror and vulnerability, but G‑d did not bring back the sun. Instead, he showed Adam how to build a fire. The vulnerability was not a setback. It was an impetus to learn something he would never have learned, had darkness not fallen.

Every time I write an essay, I encounter a lull in the creative process during which I don’t know how to proceed. But the lull is not a reversal of progress, it is part of the creative process. For creative energy to burst forth, it must first be restrained. It gathers energy and strength, like the water in a dam, and when it bursts through, the creative thrust provides a ray of startling clarity.

In Life

This is true in every facet of life. Whenever we experience a setback, it is the lull before the storm. It is not a negativeThe lull is not a reversal of progress that will soon be overcome by a positive, it is part of the positive process.

Suppose you marry and come to believe that your spouse is your soulmate and you will never part. Then the day comes and you separate. At that time, your heart breaks and you feel completely abandoned. You feel silly for having placed your trust in the wrong person and your vulnerability eats away at your soul.

It can be the loss of a lucrative client, a dream job, a beautiful house, a bosom friend, a youthful memory, a loving parent. Whatever the loss, whatever the darkness, know that its purpose is to point you in a new and unanticipated direction. You would never have gone there if not for your temporary setback. And during this temporary lull, you are not alone. G‑d is holding your hand and moving you forward.

The Field

A city dweller visited his friend on the farm. He went out in the morning and watched the sun rise over a field of pristine green grass. But in the afternoon, his friend brought out a tractor and began to till the soil. The beautiful greenery was now a dirty mess, overturned clods of brown soil filled with tiny little seeds. He thought his friend was crazy and left the farm in a huff. Several months later he returned and found the field alive with a budding crop. He now understood that what had seemed destructive was an imperative part of the growth.

Life is a field and our dreams are the seeds. Circumstances are the brown clods of soil. When the Divine farmer has His way, our field sprouts with seeds of joy planted in the clods of challenge and sorrow.