Jewish recipe for success

Success is not the avoidance of failure; instead, success requires failure. To achieve greater success, one must be willing to take risks and risk failure in order to break through limits, learn and grow. Success is the ability to persevere through repeated setbacks. Falling is not failing: it is about whether you get back up and keep moving. For these reasons, failure is a fundamental aspect of leadership and success. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Failure is the supreme learning experience, and the best people, the true heroes, are those most willing to fail… Even more than the strength to win, we need the courage to try, the willingness to fail, the readiness to learn, and the faith to persist.”

An expanded curriculum is available for this topic.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. In the video, the group discusses this verse from Mishlei (Proverbs) 24:16: “Seven times the righteous person falls and gets up, while the wicked are tripped by one misfortune.” Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner commented on this verse, “The meaning is: Because a tzaddik falls seven times, he will rise.’” Similarly, Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin wrote, “It is through the act of falling, this is the reason that one rises. This is the language of the rabbis, ‘Downward motion that is for the sake of upward motion’ (Makkot 7b).” How do you understand the idea that a righteous person will fall seven times and rise? What does it mean that “through the act of falling, a person can rise”?
  2. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained why a person who sinned and failed in the past but repented is greater than someone who never sinned: “Hatred is more emotional and fiercer than love; the destructive forces are more powerful than the constructive forces… In contrast with [the completely righteous person], the man who has sinned but repented can conjure up the dynamic energy of the destructive forces which once prevailed in his soul and can channel it into his newly-adopted ways… The same appetite and commitment previously invested in theft and illegal earning can now be funneled into acts of charity and mercy.” How do Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Soloveitchik view success and failure? According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, why is someone who sinned and failed in the past and then repents greater than a person who never sinned?
  3. Commenting on Mishlei (Proverbs) 24:16, “The righteous fall seven times and will rise, while the wicked are tripped by one misfortune,” Rabbi Farkas said: “Falling only becomes failing if you don’t get back up… Futures are born out of failure. Bob Dylan lost his high school talent competition to a tap dancer, Michael Jordan was cut by his high school basketball team… Failure shows us our limits and how to break through them, how to change to succeed…Through failing and falling you can rise to your greatest success.” How does Rabbi Farkas define success and failure? Do you agree that “through failing and falling you can rise to your greatest success”?
  4. Do you think failure is something that should be celebrated or normalized?
  1. Some of the most memorable commencement speeches have focused on the positive aspects of failure. Choose one of the following commencement speeches, and identify one idea from the speech that resonated with you or piqued your curiosity. Pick one specific idea or quote from each speech, summarize it and identify how it relates to your life.
  2. Read the preface of the book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. What did Duckworth mean when she wrote that her dad “had the right answer…to the wrong question”? Then, watch this video summary of the book. According to Duckworth, what are four ways in which we can “grow our grit”? Which of the four strategies are you already doing, and which one do you want to implement more? How could you do that?
  3. Watch this video explaining the Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset. The term “growth mindset” was coined by the Stanford University professor Carol Dweck.
    • What is a “growth mindset” and what is a “fixed mindset”?
    • What do you think about the concept of a “growth mindset”? Do you buy the idea?
    • Take this short quiz to get a sense of what kind of “mindset” you have.
    • Where in your own life do you want to challenge yourself to adopt a growth mindset?
  4. Watch this Michael Jordan commercial. The legendary basketball player said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” How do you interpret Michael Jordan’s statement?
  1. After watching the video, answer the following questions:
    • How would you personally define “success” in your own life?
    • What is one thing you could do to grow in your own definition of success?
    • When have you experienced a failure or disappointment that ultimately propelled you toward greater success?
    • Thomas Watson, a former CEO at IBM, said, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” Where in your life do you want to take more risks and risk failure in order to increase your success?
  2. Watch this motivational Jordan Brand commercial, “Look me in the eyes.” Write a journal entry in response to the commercial and the following question: Where in your own life do you most need belief in yourself and patience to realize your potential?
  3. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:16 states, “[Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: “It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” One possible interpretation of this statement is that we should not confuse “effort” with “outcome.” As we strive to achieve any goal, we can remember that we are ultimately responsible for (and have control over) our own effort. Think about a goal in school, at work, or in your life that you want to accomplish. What is in your control? What is outside of your control? How will you measure success?

Unlock these resources with a free account

Don’t have an account? Sign up now

Delve deeper into how Jewish tradition explores some of today’s most pressing topics. Plus, check out the other videos in this series.

Access these resources with a free account!

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Unlock the interactive quiz with a free account

Don't have an account? Sign up now

By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively.