The Wall Street Journal once reported on “famous false starts.” For instance, in his first year in the automobile industry Henry Ford went bankrupt. Two years later, his second company also failed. His third corporation has done rather well, however. Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book was rejected by twenty-three publishers before it was accepted and sold six million copies. In 1903, King Gillette invented the safety razor but sold only fifty-one of them – and a mere 168 blades. Twelve years earlier, American Express invented the “traveler’s cheque” but sold only $9200 worth. In his first year in the major leagues Henry (Hank) Aaron batted a mere .280. R.H. Macy went broke with his first three dry good stores. Tsar Ivan was proclaimed Emperor of Russia when he was three-months-old but deposed before his first birthday. Finally, twenty of NASA’s first 28 attempts to send rockets into space ended in failure. What can we make of all of this and what does it have to do with the Torah?
These records of failure are humbling; but the tributes to perseverance are inspiring. Success is not determined by first attempts but by results over time; dedication to achieving a goal and persistence in doing what you hold to be worthwhile. Moses, too, had to learn this lesson.
His first attempt to win the release of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt met with profound failure. Not only does Pharaoh reject his demand for Israelite freedom, he also makes the slaves’ regimen harder (Exodus 5:1-9). Repudiated by his own people, Moses even questions his mission (Exodus 5:20-23). But after reassurance from God (Chapter 6), Moses begins again. Armed with the knowledge that this, too, was part of God’s plan, secure in knowing that God would support him, and confident in his ability to make the case for Israel’s freedom to Pharaoh, Moses confounds Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 6:14) and weakens Pharaoh’s resolve. Ultimately, Moses succeeds; but not without the hard-learned lesson of failure.
Moses remains a paradigmatic character for all those who fail to meet instant success in life. Hard work, dedication, and belief in oneself, however, will inevitably earn dividends.