Minute #469: Discouraged

“I give up!” Yanky exclaimed. “I’ve been at this puzzle for days now but can’t seem to finish it. All the pieces are starting to look the same.”

“Patience, patience,” his mother said in a calming voice. “Good things never come easily. You’re not a quitter, are you?”

Accepting the challenge, Yanky replied, “Okay, I’ll give it another try. Besides, failure never feels as good as success.”

Harav Yisrael Salanter said, “There is no greater illness than discouragement” (Or Yisrael, p.54). He explains that one of the key causes of despair is fear of the awesome size of the task ahead. When one picks up a sefer, one should not be concerned with the number of pages. One should realize that each page contains knowledge that it pays to acquire regardless of what wisdom the rest of the pages may offer. The right approach is as our Sages teach: “It is not expected of you to complete the entire work” (Avot 2:21).

When it comes to financial success and acquisition of material possessions, a person does not give up trying to earn more than what s/he has. Striving for material gain isn’t discouraged by the fact that one may never achieve great wealth. When one is in pain one will do whatever one can to relieve even a small amount of the suffering, even if one knows complete relief is not in one’s power to achieve. Harav Yisrael Salanter said (loc. cit.) one’s attitude towards spiritual achievement should be the same. Even if one cannot envision achieving perfection in mitzvah performance, Torah study and character improvement, one should at least try to do as much as possible in these worthy areas.

Shelomoh Hamelech said: “Wisdom to the fool is like a rare precious stone” (Mishlei 24:7). The fool, he explains, despairs, thinking he will never be able to acquire wisdom, while the wise person learns a little at a time and gradually accumulates vast knowledge.

A wise person realizes perfection is impossible and not expected. Constant improvement is what’s required. You have the ability to improve if you don’t get overwhelmed by the size of the task.