THE UPSIDE OF FAILURE
WHEN A RECOVERING PERFECTIONIST PUBLISHES A BOOK
It was a disaster…
Launching the first real book (that I was completely responsible for) through Project Proactive’s new publishing division… and I felt like a complete failure.
After a year of writing, butchering, editing, editing, and editing some more (with the help of my son Moshe Tzvi)… Bite Size Torah on Bereshit was finally complete - just on time for people to order before the start of the new Torah cycle.
Rebbetzin Leslie Selevan, a dynamic and inspirational speaker (who is available to come and speak in your community btw. Let me know if you are interested, and I will hook you up), entrusted me with the notes that she had compiled over the last decade (from Rabbi Sholom Rosner’s Torah classes), to mold and form into a book of shorter thoughts that could be shared at people's Shabbat tables and…
There was an extra “I” in the word INSPIRED on the front cover!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
From the many eyes that reviewed the manuscript, nobody caught it. But ultimately, it was my responsibility.
When a member of our Project Proactive community messaged me to point out the typo 10 seconds after I proudly publicized the book on social media, I was devastated. I think my heart literally dropped into my stomach. Is that even physically possible?
And people started purchasing it right away. They were all going to see how terrible of a writer and editor I was. My flaws out there in the world - for all to see.
And to make matters worse… the next day I woke up and the book was somehow listed under “Christian Wisdom Literature.” What the heck?!?! Although I was flattered that within 24 hours it was the #1 best seller in that category, I was freaking out that I just lost all credibility in the Jewish book world.
Rebbetzin Selevan is a superstar orator and because of my careless mistake (well now 2 careless mistakes... the tally was growing), I could cost have her potential speaking gigs because of my incompetence.
I share proactive mental health tools all the time, but there was nothing I could find in my brain’s “toolbox” to make me stop ruminating about what a huge failure I was.
I hate being vulnerable.
I hate putting myself out there.
I hate not being perfect.
And even after a year of intensely working on myself to overcome these traits… I was ready to throw in the towel. Take the book off of Amazon. Forget about starting on writing the next book for Shemot...
I even sent a message to my WhatsApp “tribe” (with a bunch of therapists in it) telling them, “see… this is why people should stay in their comfort zones. I never want to put my name on anything ever again.”
To which I got a lot of encouragement and really thoughtful messages… but what are friends supposed to say? “Ya, you are right. You really suck but we love you anyways" ... "We will buy your book no matter what because we want to support you (but if we didn’t know you, there is no way we would ever buy a book with a typo on the cover...”
Friends would never say that.
Elisheva Liss (a member of the tribe) said something really special (enough to deserve quoting here, but not enough to put my heart back in it's place). She said; “Oh man- sorry! But remember u still put out tens of thousands of correctly spelled words of wisdom. And they are educating Jews and gentiles alike on this Yom tov of global inclusion - where 70 korbanos were brought to honor all the nations:) keep “failing” forward.”
So thoughtful. Thanks Elisheva!
But then I had an appointment with my osteopath, Rada Thomas, who isn’t Jewish but happens to be really spiritual. I unloaded my woes to her during my treatment. In her infinite wisdom, she reminded me that there is a reason for everything. That extra “I” on the cover must have been there because I was meant to learn something. She then asked me to read her the first few pages while she worked on my neck. I will share with you what I read to her - the first two divrei Torah in the book.
(I must have read each of these dozens of times, but obviously did not internalize its depth until this point);
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY AND TRY AGAIN
וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד And there was evening and there was morning, first day (Bereshit 1:5)
It’s the first day of creation and the story is just beginning, yet, this sentence starts off with the letter “vav” meaning “and”. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have the word “and” there when the story just started…
Rabbi Yehuda says that it would have made much more sense if the passuk just said “let there be evening”. The midrash explains that Hashem created multiple worlds and then destroyed them - until He created this world, to which He declared, “this one pleases Me”. This thought is also implied through the use of the word “Hinei”, which suggests that “all of a sudden” Hashem created a world that satisfied Him, without destroying it. Hashem does not make mistakes, so why would He create and destroy worlds until He “all of a sudden” decided that this one was the right one? This midrash teaches us a lesson that is not meant to be understood literally.
The imagery that Hashem creates and recreates worlds teaches us that we need to be ready to re-build and re-construct our lives as “structures” collapse. To build is hard, but to re-build is extremely difficult. The world around us may sometimes feel like it’s shattering and totally destroyed, and yet, we are taught to start over.
Not only that, but we should keep starting over, until we succeed. Hashem specifically created worlds and destroyed them — not because He could not get it right the first time, rather, to show us that we should never give up.
We know this “goof up” was not Hashem’s incompetence; it was a gift, giving us the paradigm of not getting it right the first time.
Failure should never inhibit our creativity, and should not obstruct our ambition. We each must become “creators of worlds” in our own limited capacities. If we fail, so be it. We can follow Hashem’s example and try it again.
According to Wikipedia, William Edward Hickson was credited with coining the phrase “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try, again” but we know the truth – that the original source, as it were, is Hashem Himself, in the book of Bereshit.
Inspired by the teachings of Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Rabbi JJ Schachter, and Rabbi YB Soloveitchik
EMBRACING “PLAN B”
Creation is widespread with “Plan B” incidents. The Torah tells us that “Hashem saw all the He had made, and behold, it was very good וְהִנֵּה-טוֹב מְאֹד”, yet, not everything went according to plan during those 6 days.
To name just a few “Plan B” incidents;
The earth was supposed to produce trees that tasted like its fruit, so we would be able to eat every part of the tree. Instead, the trees produced fruit that carried its taste.
There were supposed to be 2 great celestial sources of light, but the moon “complained” and its light was diminished.
Adam did not follow the original plan for mankind and he was thrown out of Gan Eden.
When you think about it, if almost everything that happened during the 6 days of creation was actually executed through “Plan B”, why did Hashem describe the 6 days of creation as “Tov Me’od” “Exceedingly Good”? Wouldn’t it make more sense if the original “Plan A” was described as “Exceedingly Good”, and “Plan B” is described as “OK”? “Acceptable”? “Decent”? “Mediocre”? Or just plain “Good”?
Hashem could have easily orchestrated these events differently. He chose to run the world thru “Plan B”, to teach us that we live in a world where things don’t always go according to plan, flexibility and resilience is “Tov Me’od”. The Most Successful people in life are those who can think outside the box, adjust, and embrace “Plan B”. It’s not always easy, and may involve disappointment, but it’s a great skill to work on.
We can take our cue from Moshe, the greatest Teacher/Navi that ever lived. The Beit HaLevi describes Moshe’s feelings of disappointment when he was chiseling the second set of Luchot. The divine set of luchot (tablets) Hashem “carved” Himself were broken and then replaced by a new set that Moshe had to carve by hand.
We watch Moshe learn first-hand that imperfection is actually a gift. The “imperfect”, man-made luchot, were just what the Jewish people needed in order to connect to the Torah. The man-made set were actually considered superior to the divine ones, since we are meant to be imperfect – in order that we strive, grow, and learn.
We all have life plans, visions of what our futures “should” look like and specific goals, but we are bound to experience inevitable bumps along the road.
We must learn to be flexible, and embrace “Plan B” in our daily lives.
While the broken set of luchot remain valuable, they were kept tucked away in the Aaron Hakodesh (the holy ark). They serve as a reminder that “Plan A” doesn’t always work out - but we need to move forward and rise-up from the experience. We live by, and value most, the painstaking effort and growth that took place to yield our “Plan B”.
Inspired by Rabbi Yisroel Reisman & Rav Avraham Yaakov Pam.
I felt very comforted by both of these divrei Torah.
In fact, when I went to read the book again later that day and found dozens more typos, I was energized and enthused by my mistakes.
I published a revision and then found even more mistakes.
I will continue to update the manuscript as more mistakes are found, and I will grow from each update. I now realize that it’s not a failure - It’s a practice. An exercise in resilience and vulnerability.
I learned that I just might be a decent writer, and an OK editor… but everyone needs a proof reader - another set of eyes that are in tune to fine details that can sometimes be overlooked when you are “too close to the project”.
In this industry, and in life.
Want to buy this perfectly imperfect book? Click here to order.
 Rav Abahu, Bereshit Rabba 3:7
 Bereshit 1:31
Rashi, Bereshit 1:11
 Chullin 60B, Bereshit Rabba
 Derashot, 18