Parshat Va’eira: Overcoming Setbacks
This week's parsha, Parshat Va’eira, begins with G-d reassuring Moshe that he will eventually succeed in liberating the Jewish people from Egypt. In last week’s parsha, Parshat Shemot, Moshe’s first appearance before Pharaoh is disastrous; not only does Pharaoh refuse to set the Jewish people free, but he also increases their workload by forcing them to gather their straw. After his first setback, Moshe turns to G-d and bitterly complains: “Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still you have not delivered your people” (Exodus 5:23). Even after G-d reassured Moshe that he would succeed, in this week’s parsha, Moshe is doubtful and protests: “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech” (Exodus 6:12).
Leadership is often marked by failure. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. Abraham Lincoln faced countless setbacks during the Civil War and was hated by many in his lifetime. Gandhi failed in his dream of uniting Muslims and Hindus together in a single nation. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, accused of treason and regarded as a violent agitator. Only in retrospect are heroes perceived as heroic; only in hindsight are their failures viewed as stepping-stones on the road to victory.
It is easy to succeed in a comfortable environment; when conditions are favorable, businesses, politicians, artists, leaders, and athletes are more likely to succeed; however, when the climate changes, even the greatest people stumble. It is during these times that one’s character is tested. The most dignified human beings are not those who never fail, but they are those who survive failure, refuse to be defeated, and never give up.
We must always treat failure as a learning experience. If you didn’t perform as well as you expected to on a test or at a sports game, or if you did not qualify for a spot on a club or team, you must not give up. Like Moshe eventually did, take it as a learning opportunity. Analyze where you could have gone wrong, apply your new knowledge, and avoid repeating the same mistake twice.
Moshe demonstrates a clear example of overcoming setbacks. Despite all the challenges he encountered in the past two parshas, Moshe emerged successful and even lived for 120 years. Defeats, delays, and disappointments hurt; they even hurt Moshe. In times where we, too, feel demoralized, it is important to remember that even our greatest biblical leaders failed; what made them so great was their ultimate ambition to keep going. Hold your head up high and don't give up!