Some things are elastic, which means that when one variable changes, another one does too. In our everyday life, we recognize that when people want more or less of a product or service, the price will correspondingly flex, an example of economic elasticity.
In physics, when you coil a spring from its resting position, it exerts an opposing force approximately proportional to its change in length; the greater the force compressing the spring, the stronger the corresponding tension that will be released. Children quickly learn this when playing with rubber bands; the release of built-up energy is extremely powerful, not to mention painful.
There is also a certain elasticity in the world of spirit.
In stories, life, and all things, there is a moment of failure, a catastrophic fall from grace, the abyss.
It is inevitable; we live in a dynamic world, a fluid environment where failure is possible. On one reading of the Creation story, placing clueless people in a world of stumbling blocks all but guarantees failure. We try to do all sorts of great things and fall short. We fail. Whether to a greater or less extent, we fail and live in a world of failure.
Some failures are particularly acute.
The last chapters of the stories of Genesis revolve around failure. Yehuda has a catastrophic fall from grace, going from being the respected leader of his brothers to an exile, leaving his family, marrying a heathen, and losing his way entirely. Joseph has a corresponding fall from grace, being forced out of his family, trafficked into slavery, and finding himself in a prison dungeon. Something thematically similar happens in the Chanuka story, where the Greek empire occupied Israel and successfully suppressed Jewish practice to the extent that pigs were openly slaughtered as sacrifices to Zeus in the Beis Hamikdash.
But then something magical happens that follows these failures; transformation.
The Proverbs describe how righteous people stumble seven times and rise, and wicked people stumble on their evil just once and are done for – כִּי שֶׁבַע יִפּוֹל צַדִּיק וָקָם וּרְשָׁעִים יִכָּשְׁלוּ בְרָעָה.
The Metzudas David notes that in this conception, the definition of righteousness is in the rising, the wicked in staying down. The Kedushas Levi points out that the proverb still calls a person who falls righteous because it says the person rises after they fall – יִפּוֹל / צַדִּיק / וָקָם.
R’ Yehoshua Hartman suggests that part of what makes a comeback inevitable is the emptiness in the fall; the bland and hollow present contains the potential for a different future, the building blocks the future can be built out of.
As the Chozeh of Lublin teaches, it is the awareness and recognition of downfall that triggers the possibility of redemption – אַחֲרֵי נִמְכַּר גְּאֻלָּה תִּהְיֶה־לּוֹ.
The power of transformation is magical, but it’s entirely within our reach. Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh observes that failures are not an obstacle to growth but the source of it. In other words, every fall is a spring containing the energy of a comeback, a second wind, a resurgence, or an upturn. It often comes after exhaustion and complete deconstruction.
From rock bottom, the heart of darkness, Yehuda and Joseph rises from the abyss and climb higher than the rest in both the physical and spiritual worlds, even paving the way for the aspect of Mashiach they embody. Yehuda makes amends and rises to rule as king, and Joseph forgives his brother and rises to reunite and sustain them all. The Maccabees improvise with what little they have to re-establish Judaism permanently.
Nested here is a template for all change, reconceptualizing disorder as a catalyst for transformation and overcoming challenges.
Our sages affirm the power of a comeback; repentant people can get to places that no one else can – מקום שבעלי תשובה עומדים, אין צדיקים גמורים יכולים לעמוד. The Chafetz Chaim told R’ Elchanan Wasserman that Yakov made the unusual comment of needing to see Yosef before he died because the place Yosef would go after surviving his ordeals was far beyond the place Yakov would be.
Intuitively, the potential precedes all forms of the actual; our sages teach that Teshuva predates Creation. Our sages describe the integrated coexistence of God’s greatness within smallness, which perhaps we can perceive in the force to bounce back already existing in the moment of failure; the potential for greatness is present, even if not yet manifest.
We typically recognize a passive transition from darkness to light – מאפלה לאורה. R’ Yitzchak Hutner challenges us to realize within ourselves the transformative ability to actively create light from the very darkness itself – מאפלה לאורה. In R’ Hutner’s formulation, only fools believe that the rise is in spite of the fall; the truth is that the rise is because of the fall. Science bears this out; the force that makes the sun set is the same as the same one that will make it rise.
Change isn’t an external thing that happens passively, not some irresistible force. You are not a leaf blowing in the wind; what comes before is not the final form. You must surrender to the challenge, giving yourself wholly to it, annihilating the self that comes before, to return in the higher form that has risen to the occasion, death and rebirth.
The heights you can reach are directly linked to the contours of your failure.
You will fall; you can be sure of it.
You may even lose your spark.
But you will rise like the sun.