Let’s be honest, we hardly ever get it right the first time. Hence, life is a series of blunders. Is it supposed to be this way? One might be forgiven if they answered no. After all, every time one of my mistakes is about to explode in my face, my gut screams: “Nooo! This should not be happening.”
And yet, strip life of all its false starts, wrong turns, missed opportunities, naive presumptions, and learned-it-the hard-way experiences, and what’s left? Not much! Imagine an author wrote a story where everything worked out from the start. Who would buy the book?
Perhaps blunders are meant to occur. Somehow, they are part of His grand plan. But how could that be when many of my setbacks result from actions which G‑d specifically prohibited? That’s the crazy thing about bloopers. They are not supposed to happen and yet they are also supposed to be? How are both possible?
This week’s Torah reading deals primarily with civil law. One of them reads, “If a man shall give money or vessels to his fellow to safeguard, and it is stolen…if the thief is found, he shall pay double.” In Judaism, the thief not only compensates the victim for the loss; he is penalized and obligated to pay double what he took.
Now every Torah passage contains, in addition to its literal meaning, a spiritual relevance. Thus, “If a man shall give [something] to safeguard,” is a metaphor for the Creator entrusting us with a body, mind, soul, family and a tiny fraction of His endless resources. He then asks us to nurture these gifts and protect them from negative forces.
We also possess an inner thief who schemes to steal this bounty for his own nefarious purposes. This thief is our yatzer hara, our evil inclination that seeks to derail these Heavenly handouts from their proper course of action and misappropriate their intended purpose. For example, when I lie for short-term convenience, my inner thief has stolen my words. By employing them for an immoral function, it degraded my power of speech. Similarly, when I cheat my customer, my inner thief has managed to get his hands on my business.
True, there are saints among us. Their sacred identities are never breached. The rest of us however are subjected to frequent visitations by this little ganaf who has hijacked huge chunks of our lives. Some people give up the fight. They allow the crook to take whatever he wants, when he wants. They develop a cavalier attitude to living a life of honest dignity. Others become deeply dejected. Their failures instill within them feelings of guilt. Judaism rejects both of these notions, as they both inevitably lead to the abyss, one through carelessness and the other through depression. (Tanya, Ch. 1)
Torah offers this piece of advice: If anything is stolen from you, “find the thief and he shall pay double.” Here, in subtle fashion, we discover the exquisite dynamic of t’shuvah/recovery. Instead of surrendering to apathy or wallowing, identify and confront your thief, the forces within you that keep derailing your life. You need to reclaim ownership over your schedules, behaviors and patterns. Then you will receive double the amount the thief took in the first place!
What this means is that the experience of falling and rebounding will allow you to deepen your spirituality. As the Talmud puts it, “Great is repentance. As a result, sins are transformed into virtues.” (Yuma 86b) When you fail but then confront the thief, your blunders bestow upon you an appreciation and a determination that otherwise would not have been possible. By engaging in the remarkable endeavor of t’shuvah, the sin itself is redefined as a mitzvah, because the very failure and its resultant frustration generate a profound passion for the good and the holy. (Tanya, Ch. 7)
Story: There was once a powerful king whose most precious treasure was a flawless diamond, part of his crown jewels. At a royal party, the king flaunted his diamond, passing it around on a velvet pillow. Suddenly, the diamond fell and became deeply scratched.
Jewelers were summoned to correct the blemish. However, they could not without cutting the surface, thus reducing the diamond’s value. One craftsman convinced the king that he could fix the gem without reducing its value.
A week later, the artist returned. The king was astonished to see that the ugly scratch had disappeared. In its place, a beautiful rose was engraved. The scratch had become the stem of an exquisite flower.
So the next time your inner thief hijacks your moral life, see it as a reclamation opportunity. Grab the scratch and design a flower.