May 22, 2024
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Temporary Failures Are Part of Life’s Journey

When I went on excursions as a bachur, I needed adventurous people to go with me. Luckily, my friend, Akiva, loved adventures. We went to Egypt, to Moscow and to other adventurous places. One Chol Hamoed Pesach, we decided to visit Niagara Falls. Since we needed food and a minyan, my friend made arrangements for us to stay with a family friend in Toronto overnight.

We booked an 11:00 a.m. tour of Niagara Falls for the next morning—no problem for a 90-minute drive. The next morning, after more than half-an-hour on the highway, I began to wonder why we didn’t see any signs for Niagara. We quickly stopped at a gas station for directions. Oh no … we were almost an hour north of Toronto—the complete opposite direction of Niagara! We had been racing for 45 minutes in the opposite direction! Feeling embarrassed, we turned around and arrived in Niagara at 12:45 p.m. and luckily, they allowed us on the 1:00 p.m. tour.

This adventure where we were rushing in the wrong direction gave me a powerful example relating to an important life lesson from parshas Masei. The parsha opens listing the travels of klal Yisrael in the desert and the names of the different locations in which they camped. The Torah lists 42 locations. The Baal Shem Tov said the 42 stations of Bnei Yisrael in their travels are analogous to every person’s individual life travels. All individuals have 42 stations to pass through in their lifetimes.

There’s even a special tune used during krias haTorah on Shabbos for the segment relating to the 42 stations. My friend, Rabbi Michoel Schwarzbaum, asked me a question based on the following facts: “Some of Bnei Yisrael’s travels were in the opposite direction! After Aharon HaKohen passed away, Bnei Yisrael started traveling back towards Egypt. Shevet Levi stood up to stop the retreat, which resulted in a war where many people were killed on both sides. Why were the eight stations of Bnei Yisrael’s retreat also read in the same happy tune relating to their advances?”

Rabbi Schwarzbaum told me an incredible insight he heard from Rabbi Weinfeld in Eretz Yisrael: “All parts of a person’s life are reflected in his life’s journey. Life is filled with ups-and-downs. Sometimes, we move forward, while other times, we move back. Yet, when we look at the whole picture and see a positive end destination, it all blends into one happy song.”

My Niagara trip was fun, but the part that I remember most is racing in the wrong direction. It made the trip even more memorable as a learning experience. In life, our failures are key parts in forming our life journey.

In the travels of Bnei Yisrael, the same was true. Their retreat was a temporary loss of ground, but in the overall picture, it was just a part of their journey to their final destination.

We all have failures at some time in our lives. Rabbi Noach Weinberg—the founder and former rosh yeshiva of Aish HaTorah—started multiple yeshivos that he ended up having to close down, before he finally opened the famous Aish HaTorah yeshiva, which has motivated thousands of Jews of various degrees of observance to come closer to Hashem. The previous seeming failures were all part of the greater picture of Rabbi Weinberg’s life-journey accomplishments.

People tend to be hard on themselves when experiencing failure. The Torah is teaching us that a single failure is just another station in the overall travels of one’s life. Each segment of the journey is still sung with a happy tune because it’s part of one’s development, leading to positive accomplishments.

We are currently in what’s called “bein hametzarim” (between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av). It’s a time of seeming failure for Bnei Yisrael, starting with the breaking of the luchos (tablets) on Har Sinai, and later, the walls of Yerushalayim were breached on that day. On Tisha B’Av, klal Yisrael accepted the bad report of the meraglim (spies), which led to the decree that the entire generation would perish in the desert, and both Batei Mikdash were, ultimately, destroyed on that date.

But this current time period is not a time of failure. This is a segment of the year which—when viewed in the context of the entire year—is all part of one large, happy song. After all, looking just a bit ahead, we proceed into the month of Elul—culminating with Rosh Hashanah—as we proclaim and affirm that Hashem is our King.

May we merit to reach our final destination of the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash this year on Tisha B’Av and transform the tune of Eicha into one of a happy song!


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com

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