April 9, 2024
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Failure Breaks Some And Makes Others

One of the great leadership thinkers of our generation, John C Maxwell, has often said, “The difference between great people and average people is their attitude to and response to failure.” How do we handle failure?

We see in this week’s parsha, Chukat, one of the most incredible responses of the greatest leader of all, Moshe Rabbeinu, and how he handled his greatest failure and what it tells us about him as a person and a leader.

Moshe was given one mission at the burning bush. God said, “I can see the suffering of My people” (Shemot 3:7), “וָאֵרֵד לְהַצִּילוֹ—And I have come down to save them” (3:8), and you are going to bring them out, give them the Torah and bring them to the promised land of the forebears. That is your mission—from Exodus from Egypt to entrance to Israel.

It goes wrong… In this week’s parsha, Moshe strikes the rock resulting in the harshest punishment of, “לָכֵן לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה אֶל הָאָרֶץ—You will not bring the people to the land,” (Bamidbar 20:12)—you will not complete the mission that I gave you. You have failed. The generation failed with the sin of the spies; this though is Moshe’s failure—he is now disqualified from not completing the mission. Devastating and painful, after 40 years of selfless leadership in a role that was thrust upon him.

 

Remarkable Response

Immediately after being told that he is actually going to die and not go into the land, how does Moshe respond to this news? Not with dejection, not by doubting himself and not being stifled for even a moment to move forward towards entering the land, even though he won’t be part of it. Immediately, Moshe sends messengers to Edom to see what the quickest way to go to the land is. This action, in fact, would be hastening his own death, but knowing that he is fully committed to the mission at hand. Incredibly, one perek later and the next time messengers are sent, “וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל מַלְאָכִים” (Vayikra 21:21)—it is the Jewish people who sent messengers. Yet, at this particular moment—right after receiving the devastating news and his great failure—it was Moshe, himself, who personally sent the messengers. With almost superhuman resilience and strength of character, he just keeps on going.

Moshe knew that the mission of the Jewish people going into the land was bigger than himself.

For great leaders, the cause is never a conduit to build themselves, but rather they are a conduit to build the כלל—the greater good. It is not about the individual gain, but rather community service. In Moshe’s greatest failure, we see his greatest attribute, his humility and his mesirut nefesh—his absolute dedication to the Jewish people and God’s mission.

Leaders—in all areas—should always know that the cause is always greater than them. Personal failure should never detract from the individual’s commitment to the cause.

Failure breaks some people; it makes others.


Rabbi Doron Perez is the executive chairman of World Mizrachi.

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