Celebrating Our Failures
Yael Eckstein | May 25, 2020
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. — Exodus 32:19
This week, my family and I will join Jews around the world in celebrating Shavuot, also known as The Festival of Weeks or Pentecost. Initially, Shavuot was a harvest festival, but since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we have celebrated it as the giving of the Torah, which occurred seven weeks, or 50 days, after the Exodus. My devotions this week offer lessons that can be learned from this biblically mandated observance.
One of the most memorable moments of my life is when my oldest child took her first few steps. It probably wasn’t more than four or five steps, but when my daughter went from holding on to our coffee table to the nearby chair by herself, my husband and I cheered as though she had just scored the winning touchdown at a football game. Her next steps ended in tumbles and falls, but none of that mattered to us. We publicized her amazing feat to family and friends with the pride and joy that first-time parents possess!
The Festival of Weeks, which we commemorate this week, celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel, and through them, to the entire world. It was on this day, the sixth of the Hebrew month of Sivan over three thousand years ago, that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets in hand.
However, if you think about it, it’s a little strange to celebrate this particular day. Remember the story? While Moses was up on Mount Sinai with God for 40 days, the children of Israel began to get antsy. They thought Moses — and therefore, God — had abandoned them. So what did they do? They created a golden calf to worship instead. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the people engaged in idolatry, instead of giving the tablets to the Israelites, he smashed them.
Yet, we celebrate the day that the original tablets were given, even though it’s also the day that we failed to receive them. Why? Because failure is part of every success.
We may not have received God’s Word on that day, but that day was a step closer to the day that we would. When a child learns to walk, we celebrate their first steps even though there are still many tumbles to follow because we know that failure is part of the process toward success.
Do you know what happened to the first set of tablets? According to Jewish tradition, their pieces were kept inside the Holy Ark as a reminder that both our achievements and our failures contribute to who we are.
Your turn: Next time you fail at something, as we all inevitably will, fight the urge to commiserate, and instead, celebrate! It is our broken pieces that ultimately make us whole.