Mirroring the natural world which progresses along a steady cycle of days and nights, summers and winters, and life and death, the human experience is marked by fluid motion of joy and hardship, laughter and tears, failure and progression. It has been noted that on an EKG monitor, the sign of life is a wavy line which rises and falls whereas a flat line signifies death – life is necessarily synonymous with an epic struggle and a tumultuous journey. In the life of a Jew and his struggle to turn his life into a dwelling place for the Master of the world, this process is magnified tenfold. Caught between the loving guidance of the yetzer tov and the malevolent seductions of the yetzer hara, the Jew is caught in a constant struggle. With every victory, the heavens fill with the light of his unimaginable holiness and a spirit of healing, fixing, building, and magnifying comes upon all of creation. With every failure, the world is plunged into mourning and regret and darkness abounds.

Classically, the Jew viewed his avodas Hashem as comprising of his spiritual progressions; a sum total of the mitzvos he performed, the tefillos he prayed, the Torah he studied and practiced. Failures to heed the call of the yetzer tov were seen as “stepping off the train” of serving God, a hindrance to growth, entirely unrelated to any subsequent spiritual elevation barring having served as an obstacle to it.

One of the great revelations which the holy Ba’al Shem Tov brought to the world is that in truth, counter-intuitive as it may seem, failure itself must be recognized as representing an important ingredient to any growth process. It is failure that enables us to learn from our mistake and solidify our awareness of ultimate truth and ultimate falsehood, it is failure that allows us to express our commitment and resolve to the Master of the world and His holy service by refusing to surrender to the tempting impulse of despair. If responded to in a healthy, proper manner, it is possible to retroactively understand a spiritual failure as having been a “yeridah l’tzorech aliyah”, a necessary descent for the purpose of reaching even higher.

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov gives blessings to Yosef’s two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Noticing that Yaakov places his right hand on Ephraim, the younger son, Yosef tries to correct him by reminding his father that Menashe is the firstborn. Yaakov responds, saying that although Menashe is the older brother, “Achiv hakatn yigdal mimenu”. On a literal level, these words mean “his younger brother will be greater than him”, but the Degel Machaneh Ephraim sees a hidden meaning as well. This is what he says.

The name “Menashe” represents spiritual failure – it connotes forgetfulness, disconnection from the ultimate purpose of existence (“Nashani Elokim”). “Ephraim”, on the other hand, represents spiritual success and fruitfulness (“piryah v’rivya”). Here, Yaakov Avinu is telling Yosef that although “Menashe” is the firstborn; “Achiv Hakaton”, “Ephraim”, spiritual success and elevation, “yigdal mimenu” – not simply “will be greater than him”, but “receives his greatness from him“! Ephraim depends on Menashe – failure itself can serve as a “yeridah l’tzorech aliyah”, the impetus for the greatest spiritual growth.

Ephraim’s greatness depends on Menashe – spiritual failures serve the purpose of compelling us to ever greater levels of resolve and commitment to avodas Hashem.

Rebbe Ephraim of Sudlikov
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R’ Yaakov Klein is the founder of the Lost Princess Initiative, an author, musician, and lecturer devoted to sharing the inner light of Torah through his books, music, and lectures.

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