When friends from out of the area sent my wife flowers for her birthday, we received a box containing two dozen long-stemmed lavender roses. It was also for my daughter’s birthday and graduation, so I guess they figured one bunch wouldn’t be enough.
Well, as it was Erev Shabbos, my wife began cutting them down to fit our vases, leaving a pile of clippings and stems in the sink. I offered to clean up the mess and brought the trash can over to do so. As I took handfuls of leaves and cuttings from the sink and transferred them to the can, I dropped a few. I bent down to pick them up, and as I did so, realized how silly it was.
I would surely drop more pieces in the course of the transfer, so why stop what I was doing to pick up the pieces that fell? It made more sense to wait until I was finished and then pick up whatever was on the floor in one shot. Why keep bending and getting up when I would need to bend again in a minute? This is similar to barber shops where you often find hair clippings on the floor around the chair because they don’t sweep in between customers when they will just make more of a mess the next moment.
It occurred to me that quite often, this is something that we all do though it doesn’t make any sense. If we’re in the middle of a project, stopping to do something else, even if it’s important, takes us away from completing the first task. For example, if you were working on a business presentation but you stopped every time a new e-mail arrived, your presentation would be interrupted and not get the focus it needs. You could probably answer the e-mails faster as well, if you weren’t starting and stopping with them.
And it works the same way with personal improvement. If you’re working on yourself on a certain mida, let’s say, trying to avoid speaking Lashon Hara, but every time you falter you berate yourself and ask what the point of trying is because you’re going to keep failing, that’s counterproductive. Instead, like my leaves and stems, let some things fall by the wayside and keep your eye on the goal, that you are working on bettering yourself overall. Certainly, while you’re doing the cleanup, some messes will happen, but if you keep working on the main goal, you can go back and work on the relapses later. If every error derails your progress, you will find it harder to make the changes you’re trying to make.
Every rose has its thorns means that anything worthwhile will have some challenges and difficulties. That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel and give up. Instead, you keep going and work on the challenges as you need to, but without letting them deter you from your work.
Every rise, meaning every attempt to grow and become a better person, will likewise have some obstacles or challenges, but overcoming those obstacles or powering through them, actually lends to more growth and a greater rise.
R’ Hutner z”l famously received a letter from a young man who described the struggles he was going through while trying to be a true Ben Torah. R’ Hutner wrote him back, “If you had sent me a letter telling me that you had good chavrusas, were learning well, and finding yourself focused in your Tefila, I would have said, “I received a good letter.” Now, however, that you’ve written me a letter telling me that things are not so simple and smooth, but that you’re still fighting to get where you want to be, I happily say, “I have received a VERY good letter.”
The purpose in growth is not to never drop any clippings, but not to let the things that fall derail your efforts to grow. Life is not about reaching the summit of the mountain, but about continuing to climb even when you slip and slide backwards.
“Sheva Yipol Tzaddik V’Kam,” says Shlomo HaMelech. “A tzaddik falls seven times and arises.” The posuk isn’t merely telling us that a tzaddik doesn’t allow his falls to deter him from rising again, but rather that the fall itself is part of the rise which he undertakes. Being able to accept failures as part of the overall success is what sets the successful person apart from the one who has the best of intentions but doesn’t make the cut.
So the next time something doesn’t go as you planned it, stand tall and firm and keep trying to accomplish your goals. These malfunctions are inevitable, and instead of being a sign of failure, they are a sign that you’re on the road to success. You’re on the right track; you just need to keep on going.
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