Is living life as a committed Jew difficult? Is the Torah burdensome and onerous?

Let’s see what this week’s parshah has to say about it.

For this commandment which I command you this day is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven that you should say “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it” … nor is it beyond the sea that you should say “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us” … rather, this thing is very close to you … so that you can fulfill it.1

These words state clearly that living by the Torah’s precepts is not a distant ideal or impossible dream. It’s in reach, practical, and eminently doable.

These verses form the foundation of the Book of Tanya, the creed of Chabad Chassidism. The final verse, Ki karov elecha hadavar me’od, “this thing is very close to you,” even appears on its title page.

Tanya’s illustrious author, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, writes that his entire purpose of writing the Tanya was to demonstrate that living a deeply committed Jewish life is neither impossible nor unattainable. “It is close to you” means that it is realistically achievable and within reach of “the average person,” whom the Tanya addresses.

I frequently hear from Jews today that living a Torah-observant life is difficult, if not downright impossible.

The Alter Rebbe begs to differ.

Throughout the Tanya, he explains that we all have a G‑dly soul and an animalistic soul, and that there is meant to be an ongoing struggle between these forces inside us as each aspires to reign supreme and be the only one to direct our choices and actions.

Tanya is called Sefer Shel Beinonim, the “Book of the Intermediate,” mapping out the spiritual struggle of the average person. And the author encourages us by reminding us that we are not necessarily all expected to be tzaddikimotherworldly, righteous individuals. Very gently, he reminds us that even if we are not perfect, G‑d loves us.

He describes the different types of people, each in their own spiritual category. Some may be perfectly righteous, and others less. Some are perpetually inspired, while others may struggle with their faith and commitment. Some may even experience falls from grace, and the Alter Rebbe encourages those who do falter that all is not lost. Even if it happens repeatedly, it is still not the end of the world, he reassures us.

In fact, for most of us it will be a lifelong struggle. And that’s OK, he says. Because just as G‑d loves the perfect tzaddik, the wholly righteous person who never steps out of line and keeps to the straight and narrow throughout his or her life, so does He love those of us who struggle and have repeated spiritual ups and downs, falls and failings.

I love his illustration using two types of food: sweet and spicy.2 Some people love sweet food, and some like it hot. The wholly righteous person is like sweet food, while the one who has ups and downs resembles spicy food. Some people love a sweet kugel on Shabbat, while others prefer a savory noodle kugel. G‑d likes both, meaning that while He obviously values the sweet, righteous person, He has special appreciation for those who struggle and may have turbulent fluctuations in their service of G‑d.

The main thing is that when we do fall, we pick ourselves up and start again without becoming resigned or allowing ourselves to wallow in self-pity.

I am reminded of the old Yiddish story that is pertinent at this time of year. On Erev Yom Kippur there is a long-standing tradition to observe kaparot and, to this day, many still do it in the same old-fashioned way with a real live chicken. From time to time it happens that as the chicken is being passed overhead, it duly soils the poor fellow below.

So what does he do? Well, besides grimacing and bemoaning his fate, the traditional Yiddish answer was, M’visht op, un m’geit veiter, “You clean yourself up, and you carry on.”

It’s a crass but stark reminder that even if we experience a fall, or a disappointment, we must still carry on and continue to do what we have to do, regardless.

What an encouraging idea!

How reassuring it is to know that no matter if or how many times we falter, we can always pick ourselves up again and continue with our life’s mission. There are countless catch phrases out there about success and failure. Who the actual authors are is up for much debate. Some say, “Every failure is a rehearsal for success.” Others suggest that “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” The one that I think best captures the Tanya’s approach is this: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Please G‑d, the strugglers and stragglers will be inspired to continue their good work and give you nachas. We may not all be tzaddikm, but we can all give G‑d much satisfaction, pleasure, and joy, each in our own way.