By Eli Backman
If you are anywhere in the world you know by now that the underdog Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. #FlyEaglesFly!
While receiving his awards and having his moment in the spotlight, Eagles QB Nick Foles, himself a backup and not expected to do so well, shared his life perspective:
“Failure is a part of life,” he said. “It’s a part of building character and growing. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times. Made mistakes. We all are human, we all have weaknesses, and I think throughout this, (it’s been important) to be able to share that and be transparent.I know when I listen to people speak and they share their weaknesses, I’m listening. Because (it) resonates.”
These words and perspectives reminded me of some Jewish wisdom on failure, so let’s explore that together.
In life we have ups and downs. Like the old saying, “Life is like an electrocardiogram. If there are no ups and downs then you are dead.” But how do we deal with them? And why do they have to be there at all?
Have you ever sat in a dark room and someone lights a candle? Suddenly, there is some light in the room and you feel at ease. But then someone flips on the light switch and the main room light overtakes the room. Do you still notice the light from the candle? Just before it was everything you had and now it adds nothing to the light in the room.
G-d faced the same dilemma when creating the world. If G-dliness is like the main light in the room, and the world (and us) is like the candle, how does He balance the candle’s self worth in regards to the main room light? And if not, then the candle is of little value to exist at all?
Chassidic wisdom explains that G-d used tzimtzum (concealment). G-d concealed the main light (didn’t really shut it off just didn’t allow it reach the room) and then the candle becomes the focus point of the creation. This allowed the candle, here the world and us, to have ownership and purpose to our lives and actions. This is called ‘Yerida L’Tzorech Aliya:’ a step down in order to be able to raise high or step up again. G-d took that step down and went dark in order to create a better space and outcome for us.
If that is the case, then within the world’s DNA already exists steps up and down: ‘failures’ and accomplishments, concealment and light.
When we experience failure in our life, we need to see it like being in a room where the lights go out. It is dark and scary, but only in there could we be created to exist with our own independent sense of who we are! Only while being in that dark space can true light come out from within us. Take a seed that needs to be planted deep in the ground to grow (even though it too will need sunlight to grow). The first step is it taking itself apart and opening up (with a true sense of vulnerability) in order to then become a majestic tall tree.
In other words: Inspiration is like food.
There is naturally sweet and delicious food. We can eat it all day long and enjoy it.
Then there is salt. Trying to eat it alone, phew! But adding in the right amount in the right recipe and now you have a masterpiece! Salt is even used to help bring out the best in other tastes! The ‘bad’ taste of salt completes other dishes and makes them perfect!
So, failure and a step back in life is not only part of the process, it is an intrinsic part of the process of becoming our best!
As Nick Foles demonstrated, to buy time you need to step back and out of the safe pocket in order to make those great plays happen.
Eli Backman is the rabbi at UMD Chabad and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.