July 12, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 12, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It pays to recall our failures.

As Pharaoh struggles to find an interpretation of his dreams (Bereishit 41:9), his chief butler comes forth with a solution, prefacing it by saying, “Today I remind you of my sin.” He proceeds to tell Pharaoh about the dream he had in jail and the accurate interpretation that was provided by the young Hebrew, Yosef, who was guarding him there. This leads Pharaoh to liberate Yosef from jail and to ultimately elevate him to the throne.

The butler was hesitant to remind Pharaoh of the mistakes he made that had landed him in jail, but he nevertheless told him the story because it was during that time in jail that he discovered the person who would provide the solution to Pharaoh’s most vexing problem. His harmful mistake had somehow ended up proving helpful.

This would seem to explain a curious problem in the story. There is a tradition found in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 10b) that Yosef was liberated from jail on Rosh Hashanah. It was thus on that very same day that the butler reminded Pharaoh of the sin that had landed him in jail. Yet, as we recognize in our own Yamim Noraim liturgy, we studiously avoid mentioning our failures on Rosh Hashanah. While viduy, confession of sin, is performed repeatedly on Yom Kippur, the Day of Forgiveness, it is considered ill-advised to mention our sins at all on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment (see for instance Mishna Berurah 684:3).

How is it that on the very day that we studiously avoid reminding the King of Kings of our failures we find the chief butler specifically reminding King Pharaoh of his? (This irony was noted by the Bnei Yissaschar.)

We must understand, however, that what we seek to avoid mentioning are those past failures that remain failures. The Talmud (Yoma 86b) speaks of the person who undergoes teshuva mei’ahava, improving himself with the purest of motives, who transforms past failures into merits. One who successfully extracts positive outcomes from personal failure has transformed the failure into a stimulant of growth. It is for this reason that the butler did not have to worry about mentioning his sin on Rosh Hashanah, as that sin had proven to be a source of growth, generating Pharaoh’s greatest benefit.

Yes, it often pays to recall our failures. When we open ourselves up to using the lessons of those failures to guide us to a better and more helpful future, failure serves as a vehicle for success.

That must always be our charge. We can choose to ignore our flaws and focus exclusively on moving forward. But to truly grow, we must be profoundly aware of the imperfections within and around us. We must use failure as the first step to success by addressing our imperfections, not only to avoid future failure, but as the catalyst of long-lasting positive change.


Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles