We learn far more from failure than from success.
If you struggle with pain, be it a toothache, headache, or any sort of heartbreak, it’s the humble lobster that can help us onward and out of our shells.
This curious crustacean is actually a soft, mushy creature that develops a hard and inflexible shell. As the lobster grows, the space in the shell becomes ever tighter and more uncomfortable. This discomfort is precisely what motivates the lobster to break out of his shell, hide in a safe place until the new, larger shell grows, and then continue to enjoy life. This amazing process happens around once a year and is what enables the lobster to live for more than a hundred ears.
The lobster thus inspires us to embrace pain as a powerful impetus for growth. Imagine what would happen if the lobster would see a psychiatrist for his troubles. He’d walk out with a Percocet or Valium, feeling great for the short term, but he wouldn’t survive the year! It’s his discomfort that stimulates his growth!
Imagine how it would be if we could employ the same technique when we face that which stresses us. Instead of fleeing with fear, if we’d face it with fortitude and courage, we too would be able to break free from our constricting shells and set ourselves on the path toward unprecedented growth and happiness! Interestingly, we happily pay memberships to gyms so that we can stress our bodies and tear muscle tissue, knowing that this is but a minor setback on the road to health and fitness. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could approach our mental and emotional stress with the same gusto and confidence?
This powerful truth is what the Torah teaches as Moses is instructed by G-d to face his fears—to approach Pharaoh and demand that he “let my People go!” Instead of telling Moses to “Go to Pharaoh,” the Torah tells us that G-d instructed Moses to “Come to Pharaoh.” In explaining this apparent grammatical error, the Zohar—the foundational text of Jewish mysticism—explains that G-d was telling Moses that he wouldn’t be approaching Pharaoh alone. Rather Come—with Me—to Pharaoh, as I will accompany you and you thus have nothing to be afraid of.
Furthermore, the verse states that G-d told Moses to “Come to Pharaoh because I have hardened his heart.” Far from being counterintuitive, G-d is explaining to Moses that the reason he needn’t fear is that Pharaoh’s stubbornness is all a part of G-d’s Divine plan. It is G-d who has created the problem; He will solve it too. Our Torah Portion is thus named “Bo”—which means “Come”—to infuse within us the awareness that for all time, whenever we face an obstacle, struggle, or challenge, we never face it alone. G-d is always with us, and it is He who designed the problem in the first place.
G-d clearly clarifies the reason that He made Pharaoh stubborn: “to advertise my greatness amongst the land.” Indeed, it was Pharaoh’s refusal to release the Jews that prompted the ten amazing plagues that taught the world about the power of the Almighty G-d. In precisely the same way, the Rebbe explained, in a talk delivered on Saturday night, January 7, 1978, G-d deliberately plans problems for each of us to endure so that we will be forced to dig deep within our hearts, minds, and souls to overcome them. When we do so, our soul-searching will bring us to a newfound consciousness, clarity, and courage with which we can continue to live more meaningful and purposeful lives.
Like gorgeous flowers that struggle to break through the dirt, our best selves are the product of the sweat and stress over which we triumph. This is why necessity is the mother of invention. Adversity makes strange bedfellows—the discomfort forces you to do things that you would never otherwise have done. Who would you be today if not for your competitors and detractors?
In a most moving letter, the Rebbe writes to a young man with deeply personal mental health struggles. In response to his question as to why G-d wants him to suffer, the Rebbe, with great empathy, tells him that he has a light so great to share with the world that it can only be born out of struggle.
The Rebbe told this young man, that he didn’t know why he needed to endure this profound challenge, as it was surely one of the mysteries of Divine providence. But then he added this: Sometimes, a person possesses an incredible inner light that can change the world. There is no way for this person to discover that secret power within himself and call it his own, other than through being compelled to overcome a major challenge. Some would look at this young man and sadly feel disdain; many more, hopefully, would feel empathy. But it was the Rebbe, the teacher of oneness, who saw his crisis as an opportunity. There was no tragedy here, there was a catalyst for this person to touch infinity. He was not a victim of an unfortunate condition; he was a Divine ambassador sent to places most people are not because his potential was of a different magnitude. This does not ease the pain or minimize the difficulty. But it allows one to remain present in his own life, look at his story in all honesty, and grow from his past and his experiences in extraordinary ways.
This idea is embedded within the Hebrew word for “crisis“—”mashber.” Mashber also means a birthing stool. Only a fool would think that the pain of childbirth is intended solely to hurt the mother. Everyone understands that the end—a beautiful new life, justifies the means—the temporary pain. In exactly the same way, every crisis we face is sent to us as a test—it’s an opportunity to allow us to reach higher and deeper than we ever could have reached before. The only question is whether or not we will give up during the crisis or ride it through to the end.
Success is not random. It’s not the result of chance; it takes someone willing to climb a mountain full of obstacles and challenges. When scaling those peaks, mountains are never climbed in a straight path—they are always climbed in a zigzag!
Like Moses, we are never, ever alone. G-d created our problems to bring out the best in us, and He will help us overcome them too. He never gives us more than we can handle, even though sometimes we question his appraisal. When we allow ourselves to believe that G-d is in control, we can relax as we embrace our fears and face them with fortitude!
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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