NEVER GIVE UP!

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

It is now Lag Baomer 5764, the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai, a talmid of Rabbi Akiva, and I'm beginning, bezras Hashem, a new sichah entitled "Never Give Up!" Lag Baomer is a very befitting day to write about not giving up, as this certainly applies to Rabbi Akiva, the Rebbi of Rav Shimon bar Yochai. We all know that despite his not learning Torah till he was forty, he didn't give up, and he still became the great Rabbi Akiva. I heard from Rabbi Friedlander in the name of the Ari z'l, that Moshe Rabbeinu was the Yesod-foundation of the Written Torah, and Rabbi Akiva was the Yesod-foundation of the Oral Torah.

[My wife pointed out that Rabbi Akiva never gave up. Although seeing his twenty-four thousand talmidim perish, he didn't give up. He proceeded to teach another five talmidim, who turned out to be those who kept Torah alive during that difficult period.]

This is also an important foundation for Kabolas HaTorah which is coming in a few weeks on Shavuos.

There is a common problem that many of us have that causes us to despair and give up. We may be doing well when all of a sudden we fall down. Consequently, we get depressed and give up. One of the reasons this happens is because we have an unrealistic expectation of what life is supposed to be like.

This is discussed at length by Rabbi Abraham Twersky, in his book "Getting Up When You're Down", p.115-116 . He explains that this problem is when people don't approve of reality. They have unrealistic expectations. For example, they expect to start the car every morning without a problem, have their employers appreciate them, and their children to be promptly obedient when they are told to do something. When things don't happen the way they expect, then they are depressed and dissatisfied and are looking for some therapy or magic pill that will alleviate their situation.

The trouble is, there is none (except in escaping reality which is not a remedy but a temporary copping out which doesn't last. I explained this point in "How to Face Reality"). Rabbi Twersky compares this to a story told about the great escape artist "Harry Houdini" (I remember reading that he was a Jew by the name of Eric Weiss). He had the ability to escape from the most confining locks and cells. Once a prison warden boasted that he had a cell that even the great "Houdini" couldn't unlock. Houdini promptly accepted the challenge.

Once left in the cell, Houdini began working on opening the lock. To his astonishment, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't throw open the bolt. He worked more carefully, but still without success. Finally, in his exhaustion, he leaned against the door, which swung right open. It was never locked. Even the great "Houdini" cannot open a lock that wasn't locked.

Rabbi Twersky points out that we can learn from this story that treatment can be effective only when there is an abnormality that needs to be fixed. If a person just has an unrealistic expectation of the world and expects it to always conform to his wishes, then he is beyond the ken of any psychiatrist or psychologist to treat. Perhaps a rabbi whose authority the person respects can spell reality out to him, so that he can make the necessary, if sometimes inconvenient adjustments to the real world.(Till here is from Rabbi Twersky).

Included also in this problem, is an unrealistic expectation of OURSELVES. We don't realize what can really be expected of us. We expect from ourselves unrealistic achievements, and when we don't live up to them we feel like we are failures. We think that a Tzaddik (righteous person) never falls and if we fall we are not Tzaddikim.

My Rebbi, shlita, in the name of Rabbi Zeidel Epstien, shlita, taught us that this is a very dangerous mistake that could lead people to ultimately giving up. The antidote is to know what the Torah teaches us about what to expect from ourselves. In Rabbi Epstien's sefer on Chumash, "Haoros" on Breishis p. 38, he beautifully illustrates what the Torah really expects from us.

He writes that Shlomo Hamelech tells us in Mishlei Proverbs 24:16:

"Ki Sheva Yipol Tzaddik Vekum, Ureshaim Yikashalu Berah.- A Righteous person falls many (see Ralbag there) times and he gets up , and wicked people stumble with evil (without arising)"
Even a Tzaddik falls many times but the difference between him and a wicked person is that HE DOESN'T GIVE UP-HE GETS UP and continues once again on the right path. A wicked person falls and gives up.

With this point Rabbi Epstien sheds light on a puzzling and enigmatic Midrash. In Breishis Rabbah 3:7 [and 9:2] it says that before the creation of this world, Hashem created other worlds and destroyed them. When He created this world He said "This [world] brings me pleasure, the others did not bring me pleasure [that is why He destroyed them]. "

Now, this is quite hard to understand. We know that by Hashem there doesn't exist the concept of knowing something later that he didn't know before. So, when he created those other worlds, he knew beforehand that He would not like them, so why did He create them?

Rabbi Epstien answers that Hashem acted out the "motions" of creating, apparently regretting, destroying, and creating again many times until He finally succeeded in order to show us the foundation we mentioned before. Don't give up. No matter how many times we fall, we must try again many times until we finally succeed. Hashem is telling us, as it were, Look at Me, even I "failed" many times until I succeeded.

We may wonder why is it that we fluctuate so violently? One moment we can be submerged in Torah and Mitzvos, and all of a sudden, in the middle, we can get the most impure thoughts and want to sin. Are we normal?

The answer is, of course we are normal human beings. We just have to realize what a normal human being is.

I explained at length in "Letter to an Alumnus, II" that Hashem created the human being with two opposing desires. The Torah tells us (Breishis-Genesis 2:7) that Hashem made the body from "the dust of the earth" so it has animalistic desires. Then Hashem blew the Neshomo-Soul into the body. This is, as it were, a piece of G-dliness that has only spiritual desires. Consequently, there is a constant battle between them and our job is to have the Neshomo win over the animalistic desires. But it is quite understandable that just as in any battle between two enemies, one moment one side can be winning, and the next moment the other side can be winning. The main thing is to remember that, even if we lose a battle, we can still win the war.

There is a beautiful letter from Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, ztl, that he wrote to a talmid [student] who was very discouraged. The talmid was lamenting obstacles and slumps and wanted to give up. It was written in his Letters #128 and was translated in the Jewish Observer, December, 1981. I appreciate their prompt faxing me of this article when I requested it. In part he writes:

"…A failing many of us suffer from is, that when we consider the aspects of perfection of our sages, we focus on the ultimate level of their attainments….while omitting mention of the inner struggles that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the impression that these individuals came out of the hand of their Creator in full-blown form.

Everyone is awed at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim, z.t.l., considering it a miraculous phenomenon. But who knows of the battles, struggles and obstacles, the slumps and regressions that the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with the yetzer horo (evil inclination)? There are many such examples, to which a discerning individual such as yourself can certainly apply the rule.

The result of this failing is that when an ambitious young man of spirit and enthusiasm meets obstacles, falls and slumps, he imagines himself as unworthy of being 'planted in the house of Hashem.' According to this young man's fancy, flourishing in the house of Hashem means to repose with calm spirit on 'lush meadows' beside 'tranquil waters' (Tehilim-Psalm 23) delighting in the yetzer hatov [good inclination], in the manner of the righteous delighting in the reflection of the Shechina [Divine Presence], with crowns on their heads, gathered in Gan Eden [Garden of Eden]. And at the same time, untroubled by the agitation of the yetzer hora….

Know, however, my dear friend, that your soul is rooted not in the TRANQUILITY of the yetzer tov, but rather in the BATTLE of the yetzer tov. And your precious warm-hearted letter 'testifies as one hundred witnesses' that you are a worthy warrior in the battalion of the yetzer tov. The English expression, 'Lose a battle and win a war' applies. Certainly you have stumbled, and will tumble again (a self-fulfilling prophecy is not intended) and in many battles you will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing campaigns you will emerge from the war with the laurels of victory upon your head….Lose battles but win wars."

Rabbi Hutner also explains on the posuk in Mishlei "..Sheva yipol Tzaddik Vekom,-A Tzaddik falls many times- and he gets up," that "the essence of the tzaddik's rising again is by way of his seven falls."

He writes further, "I beg of you, do not portray for yourself great men as being as one with their yetzer tov. Picture rather their greatness in terms of an awesome war with every base and low inclination.

When you feel the turmoil of the yetzer within yourself, know that with that feeling you resemble great people far more than with the feeling of deep peace, which you desire."

I also saw a related point in the Artscroll Eicha (p. xlvii). Rabbi Nosson Scherman brings in his Overview the posuk in Micha 7:8, when the Jewish nation says:

"Al tismichi oyavti li ki nafalti kamti ki eishev bachoshech Hashem ohr li.-Rejoice not against me, my enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness Hashem shall be a light to me." The Midrash Tehillim 22 comments, "Ilmaley nafalti lo kamti ilmaley yoshavti bachoshech lo haya ohr li-Had I not fallen, I could not have arisen; had I not sat in the darkness, He would not have been a light for me." He elaborates further, "….there are special qualities in various times during the year. The forty days beginning with Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, and especially Tisha b'Av, are times of enormous tragedy and catastrophe. But the very tragedy holds within it the seeds of redemption. 'From the very fall will come the arising'- no one can rise up without falling first. 'From the very darkness will come the light'- the darkest, most hopeless part of the night precedes the dawn. Dark it is, but it is a prelude to the sunrise. From the moment the Temple was destroyed, Mashiach [Messiah] was born (Midrash Abba Gorion).

With the Destruction, Hashem stripped away the layers of materialism. It could have been- should have been- the blaze of light that forced open eyes that were blinded to the Divine Presence. Tradition tells us that Mashiach's birthdate is Tisha b'Av. This is because the bleakest tragedy holds within it the lesson that brings redemption, and so it contains the seeds of redemption."

There is also a very inspirational sicha from Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, ztl. that expounds on this verse from Micha and the Midrash. (It is found in the English "Reb Chaim's Discourses"-p.65, in the Hebrew "Sichot Mussar" -of 5731, Maamar 16-and of 5732, Maamar 37, in the new Hebrew edition-Maamar 93. The source of the Midrash is cited there also in Midrash Shocher Tov, Tehilim 5).

He says, "Paradoxical as it may seem, Israel's lapses and dark nights serve as both preparation to and prerequisite of its ascension to greatness. This is true not only of Israel as a nation, but also each individual in his own battle with his yetzer hora experiences periods of darkness. And it is these periods of darkness that enable one to clearly perceive the truth, discerning the light by its contrast to the darkness."

He then brings two remarkable stories from the Midrash Rabbah [Breishis 65:22] about two Jewish "traitors" who fell so low, and yet, in the depth of the abyss they were able to perceive the light that had escaped them earlier and it was this perception which enabled them to repent.

"…When the enemies [of the Jewish people] desired to enter the Temple Mount, they declared, 'Let a Jew enter first.' They told Yosef of Shisa, 'Enter, and whatever you bring out is yours.' He entered and brought out a golden candelabra. They told him, 'It is not fitting for a commoner to use this, but enter again and whatever you bring out is yours.' He, however, refused, saying, 'Enough that I have angered my Creator once, shall I anger him a second time?' What did they do to him? They put him into a carpenter's vise and dragged him over it. He cried again and again, 'Woe unto me that I have angered my Creator.'"

Rav Chaim comments, "The depths of depravity to which Yosef had sunk are indescribable. He dared enter the place that even Israel's enemies feared to enter. He emerged carrying the menorah, without the most elementary understanding that 'it is not befitting a commoner to make use of it'- an understanding that even the Romans had. It was only when this grievous error was pointed out to him that he became aware of how low he had sunk. It was this profound awareness of the darkness surrounding him that caused Hashem to enlighten him, and prompted him to defy the Romans. ……It is clear that had he not sunk so low, he would never had risen to such heights. Had he not been in the blackest darkness, he would never have been able to act in so courageous a manner."

The Midrash then tells of another Jewish "traitor" who experienced a light whose source is darkness.

"Yokum of Tzeroros was the nephew of R' Yossi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah. Once he was riding a horse on Shabbos when he came upon his uncle who was being carried on a horse on his way to the gallows. He exclaimed, 'Look at the horse that my master let me ride and look at the horse that your Master has made you ride.' (i.e. I am indulging in sin and am fortunate in my lot, while you are engaged in Torah and mitzvos all your life and will probably be hung). [R' Yossi] replied, 'If this is the lot of those who anger Hashem, how much more the reward for those who do his will?' Countered [Yakum] 'Has anyone done His will more than you?' He replied, 'If this how [Hashem] acts towards those who do His will, how much more with those who anger Him?' The impact of this reply entered into his heart like a serpent's venom. He went and subjected himself to the four methods [of execution]…Yossi fell asleep and saw Yakum's bed flying in the air. He exclaimed, 'In a brief moment he has precede me into the Garden of Eden.'"

Here also Rav Chaim points out that, "Yakum had watched his uncle being led to his execution without displaying the slightest bit of compassion and sensitivity. To the contrary, he mocked R' Yossi about his faith and beliefs and told him that his martyrdom was in vain. Instead of supporting his uncle in those trying moments, he mocked him. It was because of this callousness and stoneheartedness that when R' Yossi's words did make an impact on him, they struck him like the venom of a serpent. 'Had it not been for the darkness enveloping him, he would never have perceived the light.'"

Rav Chaim asks, "Why is it so? How does sin serve as the lever to elevate a person?"

He answers, "…The primary impediment to self-improvement and growth is the lethargy of routine and inertia. Not only does it hamper a person's spiritual growth but it renders him totally insensitive as well….habit and routine can turn even the fear of G-d into a mechanical reflex!….It is only the shock of the clear perception of one's downfall that awakens and rouses one to action. The impact of this realization when fully harnessed can elevate one to new heights."

I compare this to a person who is suffering from a very serious disease. The problem is that the symptoms start off very lightly, as if it's a minor disease. Only when the disease progresses, then the symptoms worsen. Consequently, the fellow will not realize the severity of his illness until his symptoms reach a severe stage.

So too, one who is suffering from sin may not realize how serious the problem is until his symptoms reach a very serious stage, when he falls to such a low level.

Even throughout history, we find examples of those who never gave up even after failing many times. In fact they use these obstacles as steppingstones to their success.

In "Chicken Soup For The Soul" they bring many stories to illustrate "not giving up" no matter what.

They bring a sketch of the rise of a very famous American personality despite all his failures. At the age of :

7 His family was forced out of their home and he had to work to support them.
9 His mother died.
22 Failed in business.
23 Ran for state legislature and lost, he lost his job and couldn't get in to law school.
24 Borrowed some money from a friend to start a business and he went bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt. 25 Ran for state legislature again and won.
26 Was engaged to be married, his bride died and his heart was broken.
27 Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
29 Sought to become speaker of the state legislature and lost.
31 Sought to become elector and lost.
34 Ran for Congress and lost.
37 Ran for Congress and won.
39 Ran for re-election to Congress and lost.
40 Sought the job of land officer in his home and was rejected.
45 Ran for the Senate of the United States and lost.
47 Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party's national convention and got less than 100 votes.
49 Ran for U.S. Senate again and lost.
51 Elected president of the United States.

And what a president he was. He was one of the greatest presidents in American history. It was none other than Abraham Lincoln! After losing a senate race, he was quoted as saying,
"The path was worn and slippery. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other out of the way, but I recovered and said to myself, 'It's a slip and not a fall'"
Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. He had tried over 2,000 experiments before he got it to work. A young reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times . He said, "I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000 -step process."

A certain school teacher, Mr. Schlatter, had a student early in his career, who was very troublesome. He was a bully, a thief, and always getting suspended. Everyday, Mr. Schlatter would have the class memorize some famous inspirational sayings and repeat them at roll call. Among them were, "If you can see the obstacles, you've taken your eyes of the goal." , "There is no failure except in no longer trying." This troublesome student complained the most about this routine until he was expelled from the school. They lost touch for five years when all of a sudden the student called Mr. Schlatter.

He was at a special program at one of the neighboring colleges and had just finished parole.

He told Mr. Schlatter, that after being sent to different prisons for his antics he had become so disgusted with himself that he had taken a razor blade and cut his wrists.

"You know what , Mr. Schlatter, as I lay there with my life running out of my body, I suddenly remembered that dumb quote you made me write 20 times one day. 'There is no failure except in no longer trying.' Then it suddenly made sense to me. As long as I was alive, I wasn't a failure, but if I allowed myself to die, I would most certainly die a failure. So with my remaining strength, I called for help and started a new life."

The following story is from the "Readers' Digest."

Many people know the name of Greta Waitz as the winner of the women's N.Y. Marathon for 9 consecutive years. It maybe took her about 2 hours to run some 20+ miles ending in Central Park. Well there is another woman, who may not be as famous, who took about 25 + hours to "run" the same route, but she may be even a bigger winner than Greta Waitz. Her name is Zoe Kopolowitz and she suffers from a severe degenerating disease. As hard as it was, she didn't give up and she made it till the finish line. In fact when Gretta Waitz met her, she asked her who is waiting for her at the finish line. Zoe told her that nobody was. She would just call in her finishing time and get a finisher's medal. When Greta heard this, she was upset and said that she deserved that someone should be at the finishing line to greet her. Greta concluded, "I would be honored to be that person, I will be there for you…" For the last few years, Greta was always there to greet her and put a finisher's medal on her. In fact they both go to various schools to speak about the different forms of "winning". Greta talks about following a strict regimen and Zoe speaks about not giving up no matter how hard it gets and as the poster on her wall says, "The race doesn't only belong to the swift and strong, but to those who keep on running"
We can apply this point especially to those of us who try to keep certain schedules or sedorim like Daf Yomi ( a page a day in the Babylonian Talmud) or learning Chumash. When we see it's hard, fall behind or see someone who is way ahead of us, we just give up. We shouldn't. We should remember that even if it's hard, we are not as fast as others or we are way behind the schedule, we should "keep on running" and never give up. So we'll reach the finish line later than others. We are still winners in a much more important race than the Marathon. The race to have a" happier life in this world and the next."

When the Yetzer Horo- Evil Inclination fights us, and wants us to give up, we should not get discouraged. On the contrary, this is a good sign. He is afraid of how good we can become and he wants to stop us.

When someone wants to cut down a huge tree with many branches. He can either cut the whole tree down at one time from the trunk. Or he can cut it down branch by branch. Everyone understands that the best way is to cut it all at once so you won't have to cut each branch by itself.

The Yetzer Horo knows this too. He figures that if I let this fellow grow in Torah and Mitzvos he will "sprout branches". He will have "kinderlech-children" who will also keep Torah and Mitzvos. Then I will have a hard job of fighting him and his children. It is smarter for me to "cut him down" and make him give up, so I won't have to worry about the branches.

I will end off with a story that I heard from my Rebbi.

There was a Jew who came to a certain town to collect tzedakah-charity. He was an eloquent and dynamic speaker and even the Rabbi was impressed with him. After the speech the Jew asked the Rabbi to go with him from door to door to collect money. Having the Rabbi with him will be more impressive, so people will give more. The Rabbi consented.

People gave generously. The first person gave $100, the second $50, and the third $200. Before they continued to the next person, the Rabbi took this Jew to a dark isolated alley and picked him up by his lapels. He said to him gruffly, "If you don't tell me the truth right now, I'll kill you right here on the spot. Who are you?!"

The Jew begged the Rabbi to put him down and agreed to confess.

"I am really a meshumad-apostate, a Jew who converted to another religion. I became a priest and I was really collecting for my church. But Rabbi, where did I slip up? How did you see through my ruse?"

The Rabbi laughed and responded, "You were perfect, you didn't slip up at all. In fact, you fooled me completely. But this is not the first time that I've collected money in this town. Whenever I went for a worthy cause, I had a real tough time even getting $10 from these people. When I went with you, they were literally throwing their money at you. Then the question dawned upon me, If it was such a worthy cause, then where is the Yetzer Horo? Why isn't he stopping them like he always does? That's when it hit me. You are collecting for HIM-THE YETZER HORO (your church). That's why he's even helping you.

We should learn from all of these things that when we get the urge to give up, it's a good sign and par for the course. We should be able to fight back especially by davening-praying to Hashem. No matter what, even if we lose, we have to remember that we are only "losing the battle" but we can "win the war." It is "only a slip" and "not a fall."

May we incorporate these lessons and be zocheh-merit to the true Kabolas Hatorah.

List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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