Is Effort Enough?

by Chana Klein

Do you ever put effort into something and feel like you were not successful? Did you ever feel like you failed because you did not do something well enough?

I was seeing a health professional. In conversation, he told me that his wife was working on the seven Sephirot during the Omer. We count the Omer between Passover and Shevuous. During that time, many Jews work on a different middah (character trait) each week.

The medical professional told me that his wife worked on those character traits and then he said, "But she failed."

I ask you, did she fail? Did she really fail? Could she have failed?

Can a person study Torah or work on their observance of the commandments and actually fail?

If she were working on wallpapering her kitchen and then could not do it, she may have considered that she failed at that. In the physical world, when we work at something and do not have a product or results then we do not get credit and where applicable, we do not get paid. For example, if the electrician shows up in my home and the lights still don't go on, then I don't pay him. Reward is given when there are results.

When going for my bachelor's degree I was running an "F" in statistics. I understood how to arrive at a T-score, multiply, or divide. Every computation I did of the same numbers had me arrive at a different answer. I tried and tried.

If I would have gotten a grade based on my effort it would have been an A+. But the physical world does not work like that. I met with the professor and showed him how I grasp the methods he is teaching but, I explained, I cannot calculate. He saw that I knew the methods but he gave me minimal credit for that and certainly did not give me the A+ I deserved for my effort. He passed me with a D- for the semester and I was grateful I did not have to take it over. That's the physical world. If only grade school through college had given me credit for my effort. How much more successful I could have been.

But Torah is different. We get more credit for the effort than we do for getting results. Perkey Avot 5:26 tells us: In proportion to the exertion is the reward.

I continued to learn to read Hebrew. I remember the first year I was married to Heshie. I sat in my seat at the table after every Shabbos meal with the Birkat HaMazon in front of me. I worked at pronouncing every syllable carefully and very slowly. It took more than an hour to get through it and eventually less and less time. Today, I am able to zoom through but don't because I find it so meaningful. But I know I was getting credit for my effort as I struggled with each word. I don't think I would have gotten the same credit had it been easier for me.

From Heaven, we get credit according to the effort.

Did the wife of the medical professional in fact fail???? Was the health professional correct in agreeing with her about that?

With God it is very different.

It was my very first Rosh Hashanah dinner. I had been studying all year and here it was. I was beyond excited. My family was not observant as I had not been before all of my Torah study. But all of us wanted to do something to celebrate this great day, at least by doing the dinner. It was my way of involving all of them in this wonderful world of Torah. I worked hard preparing it and just before candle lighting time, I was waiting for my two oldest to get home from their high school sports activities at an away game.

Dinner was ready. The table was set and I had lots of Torah stories prepared for sharing with the family.

My ex and my youngest were home with me waiting for my older children.

I heard a loudspeaker from outside the house.

"Evacuate. You must evacuate. . . Leave the premises. . . You must leave the area. . . "

And then...

"You cannot be within two miles of this area......"

I ignored it. It's Rosh Hashanah! I'm not leaving . . . . I'm all ready . . .,." I thought

And then...

"Evacuate. . . Evacuate . .."

I stayed.

A knock on the door! Two officers told us that the nursery/greenhouse on the next block is on fire and poisonous insecticides are being emitted in the air. They told us we have to leave and to remain at least two miles from this area.

We went to the high school to get the kids as they got off the bus and then headed for my ex husband's mother's apartment that was about two miles from us.

But there was no Rosh Hashanah there and I was feeling guilty now that I know about Rosh Hashana. After doing all that learning, what will God think if I am not doing anything with the knowledge?

We arrived at my mother-in-law's apartment. My youngest son had been very ill for many years and so he rested in her bed. I sat with him and as he slept, I read the Art Scroll Mesorah Series book entitled Rosh Hashanah. There it was on page 31: "In the Divine scheme, a person's willingness to undergo an ordeal for God's sake is equivalent to his having done it."

That said to me that what was for me extensive preparation for Rosh Hashanah for the sake of Heaven, meant I got credit for it even though I was prevented from actually carrying it out. I felt so relieved. I was in awe that there could be such a concept of getting credit even when I did not actually succeed at something.

The effort I put into my Torah study and my Torah observance is what Heaven weighs. I do not have to actually succeed or get any kind of results.

So the wife of the medical professional really succeeded just by putting in the effort.

If only she could have known that at the time. If only he knew that as well. Here they are both framing her great effort as a failure. The truth is that she put in the work, the effort. The truth also, I am certain, is that God is smiling on her for what she did. Had she known that, perhaps she would continue to work at that and at other things in Torah.

For most of us, knowing that we are successful helps us keep going. Feeling like a failure stops us. Every effort at improving ourselves, every effort at Torah observance or Torah study is in itself a special way to connect with God.

Heaven wants us to strive, to put in the effort. We are rewarded for the work even if there is no product or result or conclusion. In the world of Torah, effort is enough.

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