The question is: How do we deal with them? Do we allow them to overwhelm us or do we hold our head up high, keep the faith and move forward? In many cases our response to challenges is literally the difference between success and failure.
In the Torah, we find the following story: After the death of Moses’ sister Miriam, there was no water in the desert for the Israelites to drink. This caused a desert revolt.
They complained bitterly to Moses: “Why have you taken us out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place for seeds, or for fig trees, grapevines, or pomegranate trees, and there is no water to drink.”
Moses’ response was to fall on his face – seemingly in despair (Numbers 20:5 and 6).
Immediately afterwards, God spoke to Moses telling him to speak to the rock so that water would gush forth to quench the Israelites’ thirst. In the famous incident, instead of talking to the rock, Moses hit it. Water gushed forth.
However, because Moses did not follow God’s orders precisely, he was “punished” by not being allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Many ask how it is possible for a man so close to God to make a mistake. But these questions miss a bigger point. The word Torah means teaching, it is trying to teach us a lesson which we all – even those of us who are not Godly – can use in our own lives.
Moses began an enterprise which was to bring the Israelites up from Egypt and take them through the dessert and into the Promised Land. Once the Pharaoh and the Egyptian army had been defeated, the rest was supposed to be easy.
Fresh blood needed
But all did not go according to plan. The Israelites did what all humans do – they made things complicated and they did not cooperate in the way Moses had envisioned they would. This led to a 40-year holdup in the plan.
But when, after many years of leading the enterprise, the Israelites, yet again, complained about the Exodus from Egypt, a burnt-out Moses finally snapped. He seemed to lose faith in the enterprise, thinking that it was no longer worth the effort.
He fell on his face. He did not even try and speak to the people and reason with them as he had done previously with Korah (Number, 16:5). God stepped in immediately telling Moses to speak to the rock.
But in a state of despair Moses was in no mood to follow orders and in his frustration he hit the rock instead of speaking to it. Something had been breached, a red line had been crossed. Moses was demonstrating mission-fatigue and burn-out. Fresh blood was needed to continue leading this enterprise.
This is the reason God gave to Moses for not allowing him to continue leading the Israelites: "Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel” (ibid, 20:12).
Instead of being a pillar of faith that the enterprise would have a successful outcome he lost faith in it because of the people’s stubbornness. But losing faith in the people is tantamount to losing faith in God and thereby missing an opportunity to sanctify Him. Such a pessimistic attitude disqualified him as a leader.
Clearly we all have challenges and so does every enterprise. To be successful, however, we need to have eternal optimism and faith in the mission, despite the challenges posed by people and circumstances. Otherwise our pessimism will spread to others and may end up ruining the enterprise. Or worse, we may end up quitting – a moment before dawn.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts
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