God’s Mission Statement

Failure and the Future

This week, on Wednesday, November 4th, the Jewish world will mark the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. A central figure in modern Israeli history, Rabin served as Israel’s prime minister, minister of defense and was a signatory to the Oslo Accords. As we all know from the current violence in Israel, that framework agreement, designed to create a peace process and lead to permanent status negotiations, did not usher in a fully realized peace.

Rabin’s assassination by Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist , was a crucial turning point that sent shock waves through Israel. For many, it spelled an end of hope and the beginning of despair. It represented a failure in Israel’s body politic, much as President Kennedy’s assassination made Americans question the nature of our society.

We will hold a special program for our Tichon students on the actual anniversary date. This will include recollections from some of our Israeli teachers, a short video and a contemporary musical tribute, as well as some dialogue training for our youth. While there are rarely single fixes for our complex problems, communication is an essential part of any solution. This promises to be an educational and compelling session, and I am proud that we will be bringing this high quality programming to our high school students.

Failure is unavoidable. The news media depend on this for their content, and we all know too well what our personal failings are. Most of us also don’t enjoy the feeling of failure. Yet given its prevalence, and our continued survival as a species, failure seems essential for us as well. Why is that?
According to many of our classical midrashic fables, failure is built into the “system” by God. We read in numerous places how God chooses error prone human beings over perfect and unerring angels to fulfill the divine vision. This has led me to wonder: If God had a mission statement what might it say?And what might it teach us about the role of failure and the emotional pain that accompanies failure? Here is my chutzpadik attempt to imagine it:
God’s Mission Statement
  • To share love and life with all beings, but especially with the human being, an erring creature endowed with free will.
  • To offer these human creatures tools for using their free will in a manner that will elevate them and help them achieve their full potential for love, connection, self-expression and holiness with themselves, Me and all of My creation.
  • To share these tools, which include principles of ethics, justice, celebration and connection with all humanity.
  • To package and distribute these tools in a blueprint for life, known as the Torah (but available in other formats also).
  • To provide concrete action plans, known as mitzvoth, so that the end user can properly learn to operate the supplied tools, and to provide on-line and real time support in a global network of retail outlets (synagogues, churches, mosques, etc.).
  • To provide “haptic feedback” to end users when they make bad choices.
  • To exercise institutional divine patience and allow a long learning curve for failure until this culture change occurs both in the retail outlets and in the larger marketplace of humanity.

The Utility of Pain and Failure

Failure is emotionally painful precisely because pain captures our attention in a way
little else does. If we are sensitive enough, we can make corrections at the first whiff of failure when the pain is relatively minor. We seem designed, and the world seems designed, to increase these pain messages until we finally are prepared to take corrective action. This is not to say that all pain is purposeful, but often enough it is.
The problem for us as individuals, families, communities and countries is how inured we have become to the messages that failure and its attendant pain provide. The pain of failure can be a gift-if we are willing to use it as our wakeup call.
As we prepare to enter Shabbat this week, I hope we will all take a few moments and pay attention to what we have been avoiding. May we all live lives of which we are unashamed.
Warmth and blessings,
Rav D
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