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One of my favorite movies is Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (as well as The Dark Knight for that matter). There are many scenes that I love, but as I reflect on my year and prepare for Yom Kippur, I remember what Alfred, the Wayne’s trusted butler, said to Bruce Wayne to encourage him at his lowest points. He said, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Growing up, I always felt school focused more on the idea that “failure is not an option.” However, this week in our Design Thinking and Innovation class we wrapped up the unit “Failure is a Requirement” and it could not have happened at a better time in the Jewish calendar.  

Yom Kippur is one of the most, if not the most, solemn days in the Jewish year. We are praying for our lives asking that we are written into “the book of life.” This is terrifying. I mean come on. I am far from perfect, and there has yet to be a year that I come to Yom Kippur with nothing to ask forgiveness for. However, as I have spent more time understanding the Yom Tov,  I have to come to appreciate that my imperfections are exactly why Yom Kippur exists. It is a holiday that acts as the spiritual scaffolding technique to raise me up.  It is glorious! It is the holiday that teaches us that failure is the secret to success.

In my experience, most people are not comfortable with failure. I think it has something to do with the fact that they don’t understand the value of it. Plus, many of us grew up in a traditional educational system where failure is not an option. You take an exam, you fail, move on and never get to go back and learn what you didn’t know. You fail without having the ability to learn from that failure, which is the entire point of failure. To that point, in my class, if you fail to meet the expectations of an assignment, project or assessment, you can do it again, after given feedback, until you do. Why? Because “we fall so we can learn to pick ourselves up!”

While we as a class were learning about the role of failure in success, we watched this video, “Honda the Power of Dreams Failure: The Secret to Success.”

During the video, the students were required to take notes on what stood out to them and where they saw that failure fueled success. All the students pointed out something meaningful to them, and I was excited when one student shared the same note that I took. We both loved what Danica Patrick said about her racing and how she pushed herself to the next level. She said, “you’re constantly on the brink of crashing because that is the fastest.” If you are doing it right, racing to your fullest potential to get to the next level, then you will always be driving on that edge between coming in first or crashing.

The Danica Patrick Racing Tips Yom Kippur Takeaway for me was that when you are living your life to the fullest and trying to grow to the next level, you will always be at a higher risk for failure. That is how you know you are pushing yourself to your potentials limits. Plus, you must know you will fail. It is inevitable. It is not just an option, but rather it is a requirement. You need the information from failure to know what you need to do differently to succeed.

Yom Kippur is not a reset button. You don’t pray, wipe away your sins and get to start over. It is a play button. You get to start from where you left off with a deeper understanding of your successes and your failures. This is all in the service of succeeding even greater in the upcoming year. It is a learning process. The idea is that you grow each year, fail each year, learn each year and apply what you learned to the next year. We express our sins to ask for forgiveness, but more importantly to reflect on them so that we can become a better version of ourselves in the next year.

I came across this simple Chassidic story from Rabbi Yaacov Haber of TorahLab.com which I think nicely gives over the idea of failure being an important aspect of success for Yom Kippur and in life.

A chassid once asked his rebbe on the day after Rosh HaShanah, “Why pray on Yom Kippur? After all, we’ll inevitably transgress again.” “Look out the window,” the rebbe said, “I’ve been watching this child for days now.” The chassid joined the Rebbe at the window and watched a child learning how to walk. He kept standing, walking and falling. “Just keep watching.” Day after day the chassid returned to witness the same scene. At the week’s end the child stood without falling. “So with us,” said the rebbe, “we may fall again and again, but in the end, God gives us the opportunity we need to succeed.”

I want to wish my family, my students, their parents, my colleagues, our Alumni and all my friends a G’Mar Chasima Tova. May this year be better than the previous one and may this year be filled with learning from our failures so that we continue to succeed in reaching our individual potentials!

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