Honor All Your Failures

In preparing for a move, I was going through an old stack of papers and found inside a pamphlet that I was apparently given during one of my trips to Israel, entitled “How to get deeper into Torah without going off the deep end.” I don’t remember reading this pamphlet previously (because I probably received it quite a number of years ago), but decided to skim through it again now, just to see what kind of advice it offered to the newly religious.

The advice enclosed was sound, things like “Don’t abandon your old identity,” “Go slow” (5 times!), and “Ask questions.” But the one that really struck me was “Honor all your failures.”

“Honor all your failures.” I thought that was quite interesting and not something that I’ve heard so often. It makes sense; I’ve heard the expression more than once that you learn from your mistakes. And honestly, I know that whenever I mess something up, while I do have a tendency to take it hard (obviously, I still have this lesson to learn), I usually try very hard not to repeat such a mistake and as such, grow from it.

The pamphlet goes on to say that getting things right “prevents deep understanding” while “your failures bring depth and grace to your knowledge.” Again, I definitely see the wisdom in such an approach, the more you make mistakes and realize them, the more you recognize and refine the correct way of doing things.

I think this is a really important lesson for many baalei teshuvah, that you don’t have to be perfect, ever. That there is as much growth, if not more, to be made through mistakes and failures, than there is from doing things right. A writer learns that revisions make his writing stronger and clearer. An artist erases many times before producing a masterpiece. And a person should realize that through his mistakes, he internalizes what he is striving for.

Honor your failures, for they are that which you learn from.

8 comments on “Honor All Your Failures

  1. I had a copy of that pamphlet when I was in yeshiva in EY and I remember one thing it said was not to correct what you perceive as other peoples halachic mistakes until you have been frum for 10 years.

  2. It’s always nice to get this reminder. Beating oneself up over failure often is what causes more damage than the failure itself.

  3. Charnie –
    It was nice meeting you as well. Unfortunately, in my move, I think I discarded the pamphlet. But in general, I think it’s extremely important for a person, when becoming frum, to hold onto many of the interests and activities they were involved with before they were religious. Those things are a big part of who a person is, and are not necessary to abandon in order to live a frum life.

    JR –
    You are probably correct that the wording could be different – I just took what the pamphlet said, so I’m not sure exactly why they chose the phrasing.

  4. Even if failures are instructive, it’s a bad idea to repeat the failures you’ve already had.

  5. I find the wording “honor your failures” quite peculiar. Why not say “learn from your failures”? Isn’t that the point being made?

  6. Great post, Shoshana, and glad we had a chance to meet at the Shabbaton. Do you recall the part about “Don’t abandon your old identity”? The first article I ever wrote for this blog, which I still need to tone down before it will ever get posted, was basically on that subject, so this caught my eye.

  7. I once heard Rabbi Frand say regarding the posuk “Ki Sheva Yipol Tzaddik Vekum” – a tzadik falls seven times and gets up. Rabbi Frand explained that it’s not that he continually gets up because he is a tzadik. Rather, he becomes a tzadik because he doesn’t get mired in his failures and shortcomings and continually tries to better himself.

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