Rosh Hashanah through Simchas Torah is the “Yiddles in Wonderland” potpourri of everything from introspective remorse to careening Torah dances. Over this past month, we’ve shape-shifted through contrition, resolution and celebration. We’ve prayed more than usual and have overeaten. G-d, in his infinitely imaginative way, has provided us with enough stimulation and inspiration to make the holiday season electric.
Now, the spiritual hangover starts as we head back to the grind of ordinary life. You may still hum some lingering Yom Tov tunes, eat leftovers and (hopefully) hang on to a New Year’s resolution or two. But, the season’s inspiration will soon be buried in bills, traffic and the overfull inbox of life’s monotony.
Before we return to the humdrum five-day workweek, we read the Genesis story. Chassidim say that Shabbos Bereishis (named for this week’s Torah portion) sets the tone for the coming year. This is the first “normal” Shabbos of the year and an opportunity to translate the Yom Tov highs into real life.
You’ll agree that it makes sense to read the Creation story as you plan to create a productive year ahead. What does not make sense is why the first human story- which we read as we plan to translate inspiration into action- is one of dramatic failure.
Meet Adam, created by G-d’s own hand and imbued with immense Divine inspiration. G-d personally gives him one instruction: “See that tree? Don’t eat its fruit”. Simple. For a guy who had never encountered fruit, he could have enjoyed a peach or banana instead of beelining for the verboten tree. (Oh, and our Sages teach that the Tree of Knowledge was only off-limits for about three hours. It was the Divine marshmallow experiment.)
Well, apparently Adam and Eve couldn’t do Delayed Gratification 101. And we’re still paying the price.
Adam was handcrafted by G-d and lived in a state of hyper-spirituality. We’re spiritually primitive folk who relate better to Netflix than to our neshomas. Adam lived in Eden, where the bad guys look like serpents. We live in suburbia and have temptation on speed-dial. Living in a perfect world, they bungled one mitzvah. What chance do we have to live up to our long list of time-consuming and often inconvenient Divine expectations?
Sounds pretty depressing for the human story.
We all make mistakes and we hate ourselves for them. Maybe it’s because we take ourselves too seriously. We expect to be perfect. Then we let ourselves down. Instead of considering that we have failed, we often believe that we are failures.
From the outset, that’s what G-d wanted to clarify. He designed humans to fail. Chances are that we will fail more often than succeed.
And that’s ok.
Had G-d wanted a perfect world, He’d have stuck with the angels. Those guys never mess up. Angels sing on cue and carry out every Divine mission in toto.
Angels are boring. G-d wanted humans, with our foibles and weaknesses, our failures and mistakes. He loves us for our mess-ups.
Perfect beings can’t grow or innovate. We can. Our mystics call this “descending for the sake of ascent”. In plain English: You sometimes have to fall back to be able to move forward.
You might have had some angelic moments over the High Holidays. Nice as they have been, they’re not real life. Torah wants us to know that the only real failure is when you remain stuck because of your failure. When you grow from a negative experience, you achieve the ultimate purpose for which humans were created- to transform adversity and darkness into success and light.
Adam’s story helps us create perspective as we restart the year. We’re not going to retain the Yom Kippur high; we will likely make mistakes. It’s not a train smash. The trick is to use each slip-up as a learning moment to become a better person.