Kibbutz Nirim, 2 km from the Gaza border. (Photo: Michael Casher)
Grit and Guts: Rising Up from Falling and Failing
BY RABBI DORON PEREZ
One of the most remarkable qualities of the human spirit in general and the Jewish people in particular is grit. Grit is the inner strength to face hardship and adversity with unyielding courage and tenacity. The resilience to confront challenges and failures may be the most important quality needed to succeed in life.
Leadership thinker John C. Maxwell highlights this powerful and salient point when he says that “the difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure” (Failing Forward, 2007).
Indeed, an indispensable part of life is dealing with mistakes and failures. No human being has ever avoided failure and sin. In the words of Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men: “There is no righteous person on earth who does only good and never sins” (Kohelet 7:20). Whether we will fail is not a question of ‘if’ but rather of ‘when’ – it is inevitable and built into the human condition.
When we do indeed stumble, the critical question we must face is – how will we respond? Will we remain down and stumble further or will we pick ourselves up? Once again, the wisest of all men highlights how we ought to respond in another of his books of wisdom: “Seven times a righteous person will fall and rise, but wicked people will stumble in wickedness” (Mishlei 24:16). Righteousness is not about never erring but rather about picking ourselves up when we do, dusting ourselves off and continuing nonetheless.
Gersonides points out that the above verse implies that righteous people stumble many times and pick themselves up each time, whereas a wicked person falls only once and cannot overcome. The ability to bounce back is a defining quality of successful spiritual living.
If this is true for our individual struggles it is most certainly equally true for our collective challenges as a people. This sentiment is clearly expressed by King David where he juxtaposes a Jewish army to that of their enemies in battle: “They will stumble and fall but we will rise with vigor. Hashem will provide salvation, the King will answer us when we call on Him” (Tehillim 20:8–9). Rabbi David Kimche points out that the verse implies that both Israel’s enemies and Israel stumble in battle. The difference is that the enemy falls and crashes whereas Israel is able to rise up from the fall with grit and determination, ultimately prevailing.
The greatest failure
The events of October 7, 2023, Simchat Torah 5784, is the greatest failure in Israel’s history. 1,200 civilians and soldiers alike were butchered, murdered, burnt, raped and tortured in a way reminiscent of the worst of the Crusades, Chmielnicki massacres, pogroms, and horrors of the Holocaust. Hundreds of hostages were taken of all ages and backgrounds – from the then 9-month-old Kfir Bibas to ailing and elderly octogenarians. All of this in one day.
Indeed, for a period of 6–8 hours on that day, the Gaza Envelope was the most dangerous place for Jews anywhere in the world since the Holocaust. It is hard to comprehend that a devastating attack like this could take place in an independent Jewish state with the strongest army and the most advanced, technologically-driven military intelligence in the region. It was a horrific failure of epic proportions.
How will we react, as individuals and as a people? Will we be able to rise up from this failure with grit and courage and transform this dark time to one of light? Will we overcome great challenges and change this narrative of destruction into a story of hope and building a better future?
Israel and the Jewish people’s response thus far has been mind-boggling and deeply inspiring.
From the moment the surprise attack began, civilians and soldiers alike sprang into action. Heroism emerged everywhere. Civilians saved people they didn’t know at enormous personal risk and soldiers arrived from all around the country on that day, putting their lives on the line and blocking Hamas’ terror with their very bodies.
The weeks that followed have continued this remarkable self-sacrifice and tenacity. Israel has seen the largest turnout of reserve soldiers in her history. Three hundred thousand Israelis returned home to fight in the war – an incredible population growth of 3% – instead of fleeing the war zone. Thousands of global Jewish leaders from across the spectrum and hundreds of solidarity missions continue to flow to Israel from around the world.
Along with this remarkable courage and selflessness has come a rare spirit of unity – a deep sense of ‘all for one and one for all.’ There is a collective commitment to bring every hostage home and to destroy Hamas’ terror infrastructure, ensuring that no such threat exists going forward.
The Region of Revival
The nation’s resolve to rebuild the destroyed Gaza Envelope communities is another extraordinary example of grit and guts, symbolized by the name chosen for the initiative to rebuild these destroyed communities. The Gaza Envelope region will now be called חֶבֶל הַתְּקוּמָה, the Region of Revival.
Until now, this region of the western Negev has been defined by its proximity to Gaza – the Gaza Envelope. From now on, it will have its own independent name expressing neither geography nor the devastation of October 7, but rather the grit and tenacity of rebuilding and resurrection.
The root of the name תְּקוּמָה is “קָם,” meaning “to rise up.” It refers not only to getting up from a seated position but also and especially to rising up after having fallen. On October 7, we fell and failed badly as a country and a people. But on that very same day, we began to rise remarkably from the blood, lead and ashes.
A Jewish response
It will take years, but I have no doubt that, with Hashem’s blessing, the Region of Revival will not only be rebuilt, but it will also become one of the most thriving areas in Israel. Both the population and size of the communities will grow to many times their original size. It is a priority for both the State of Israel and Jews all around the world to ensure that this region of the western Negev teems with life and luster like never before.
This is the Jewish response – to rebuild amidst the very destruction itself. We see a clear indication of such a response in the beginning of the book of Shemot. The new Pharaoh turns on the Jewish people, forgetting what Joseph had done for Egypt in her time of need. Pharaoh decrees cruel and debilitating slavery and harsh physical labor for all the Israelites, aiming to destroy the Jewish spirit. Astonishingly, exactly the opposite occurs: “And to the extent that [the Egyptians] persecuted them, the more they grew and expanded in number” (Shemot 1:12). The more they were afflicted, the more the population grew. The more Pharaoh sought to destroy, the more he unintentionally built us up.
A powerful example of the refusal to remain down and the indomitable Jewish spirit can be seen in our daily prayers. Three times daily we recite Tehillim 145, known as Ashrei. Although the first letter of every line follows an alphabetical order, the only letter left out is the letter nun. The Talmud explains that this letter is left out because it is the first letter of the word נָפַל, which means “to fall” (Berachot 4b). Since there is a verse in the prophets suggesting, Heaven Forbid, an eternal falling, this letter was left out. “Fallen, not rising again, O Maiden Israel; Abandoned on her soil with none to lift her up” (Amos 5:2).
Judaism does not accept that the people of Israel will fall forever. There is always a way back. Even a hint in a verse of falling without recovery is against the spirit of Judaism. Indeed, the Talmud continues, the Sages of Eretz Yisrael interpreted this verse differently. “You will not continually fall, Rise O maiden of Israel!” Israel will surely rise again from destruction.
The Land of Israel and the Jewish state are themselves, as a whole, a remarkable “Region of Revival,” creating an economic marvel and agricultural oasis in what was until recently one of the most barren places on earth. Just as we returned impossibly from a 1,900 year exile, we will, b’ezrat Hashem, bounce back with grit and determination after the painful fall of October 7. The region that suffered the greatest destruction and death in Israel’s history will become a miracle of reconstruction, revival and the celebration of life.
It is the Jewish way. Together we will prevail.
Rabbi Doron Perez is the Executive Chairman of World Mizrachi.