One of life's most incomprehensible paradoxes is how Hashem allows us to choose—yet Hashem also knows what our choices will be.
Our 3-dimensional minds cannot truly understand this paradox.
But Rav Miller fleshes it out a bit on page 5.
Rav Miller also maintains an uncompromising stance on each person's potential for personal greatness, going so far as to say on page 4:
The fact is that if she chooses so, even a simple housewife can excel and become greater than the greatest tzaddik.
How Did Yaakov become Yaakov Avinu?
And it's an ornery one.
Within the tents of his holy parents & the Yeshivah of Shem v'Ever, Yaakov Avinu received all the tools he needed to achieve spiritual success.
But tools can just sit on a shelf, looking all shiny & impressive.
In order to utilize those tools and to actually ACHIEVE greatness, Yaakov Avinu needed the obstacle course & smelting pot of Lavan.
To come out victorious after the years-long stint in the spiritually & emotionally dysfunctional home of Lavan, Yaakov Avinu needed to utilize every single tool he ever absorbed from his parents & his teachers.
As stated on page 14:
All the perfection that Yaakov achieved was already wrapped up in the seed that was planted in that house, not in the house of Yitzchok and Rivkah where Yaakov Avinu was at first.
Not in the house of Shem v’Eiver either.
He acquired his true perfection in the most unlikely place, in the house of Lavan.
It's like sandpaper on wood.
I imagine that it’s not easy for furniture to be sanded down; you have to apply pressure and rub back and forth, back and forth.
But that’s how it becomes polished; all the rough edges are smoothed out by means of that pressure.
Character is the same as wood.
Perfection of the mind, perfection of character, is not gained easily.
We need so many things to sandpaper us, to make us smooth and easy to deal with.
To make us successful people; people who are good-natured, calm and patient and forgiving, we need that friction to sand us down.
So Hashem sends things upon you.
He sends you people to sand you down.
And the only way to pass these tests is by the tests existing in the first place.
Without the tests, there is nothing to pass, nothing to overcome.
Without the tests, greatness remains out of bounds forever.
Sanding Ourselves to Success
We only hear about the successes, not the failures.
But the above is why we face difficult people in our lives.
For example, many people grew up with at least one difficult sibling or parent. (Or sometimes all of them were difficult.)
Even if no one was particularly difficult, you still have to get along with everyone and also go out of your way to honor your parents.
Parents & siblings force a person to step outside themselves.
Later, people face challenges in the classroom.
Even later, personal challenges arise in marriage, with in-laws, at work, in shul, in kollel, with neighbors, etc.
And Hashem put these challenges here for our benefit...even & especially when it feels like the opposite.
Some of these people almost destroy us, like Lavan could have destroyed Yaakov and how Potifer's wife almost destroyed Yosef.
And it's that "do or die" moment or situation that creates our spiritual destiny.
What If My Challenges Keep Ending Up as "Lavan Smashes Yaakov" rather than "Yaakov Overcomes Lavan"?
What if I keep failing in my own challenges? What if I keep falling again & again? What does that say about me?
At this point, it's helpful to bring to fore the ideas of Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender.
(And as he himself notes, they aren't even his original ideas, but from Tanach with lots of explanation by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.)
If you find yourself failing a challenge, it doesn't make you bad or a spiritual failure.
It doesn't reveal you to be abusive, dysfunctional, nor is it indicative of a personality disorder.
In the course of building ourselves, it is perfectly normal to fail A LOT.
A great many people nowadays face excruciating battles on more than one front.
In part, it seem like Hashem getting all our tikkunim in before the Geula.
Another reason is because people who succeed without being preceded by failures (or with an ego-driven response to their failures) often develop unwarranted pride in their accomplishments.
People who've endured the necessary inner work often display more humility when dealing with others' wonky middot.
These people also end up being the most compassionate & supportive toward others who struggle with their own challenges & falls.
In fact, in my experience, the MOST judgmental and LEAST helpful people are the ones who don't experience falls on their way to success.
In fact, despite their apparent accomplishments in life, they lack truly refined character (though they may be able to put on a good act).
Chazal declares the arrogant person as one type of person Hashem absolutely cannot stand to be around.
So please recognize the following 2 principles:
(1) Falls exist to cultivate humility, which enable Hashem to stay close to you. He loves you very much, so this closeness with you remains important to HIM.
(2) Falls gift you the ability to offer valuable help to others in their own journey.
With Hashem's Help, may we all succeed in reaching our full potential.
For a related article on the topic, please see:
Credit for all quotes & material goes to Toras Avigdor.