We all have struggles, and we all have times during our lives when we feel like we are losing those struggles. I would like to share a beautiful letter from Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, ztl, to a talmid who was very discouraged. The talmid was lamenting obstacles and slumps and wanted to give up. It also happens to be a fantastic piece with regards to the "Artscroll portrayal" of gedolim as angelic beings.
A failing many of us suffer is that when we focus on the ultimate level of the attainments of great people, we discuss how they are complete in this or that area while omitting mention of the inner struggles that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the impression that these individuals came out of the hand of their Creator in full-blown ideal form.
Everyone is awed at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim, considering it a miraculous phenomenon. But who knows of the battles, struggles and obstacles, the slumps and regressions that the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with the yetzer hara? There are many such examples, to which a discerning individual such as yourself can certainly apply the rule.
The result of this failing is that when an ambitious young man of spirit and enthusiasm meets obstacles, falls and slumps, he imagines himself as unworthy of being "planted in the house of Hashem." According to this young man's fancy, flourishing in the house of Hashem means to repose with calm spirit on "lush meadows" beside "tranquil waters" [Tehillim 23] delighting in the yetzer hatov, in the manner of the righteous delighting in the reflection of the Shechinah, with crowns on their heads, gathered in Gan Eden. And at the same time, untroubled by the agitation of the yetzer hara, along the lines of the verse "Free among the dead" [Tehillim 88:6].
Know, however, my dear friend, that your soul is rooted not in the tranquility of the yetzer tov, but rather in the battle of the yetzer tov. And your precious, warm-hearted letter "testifies as one hundred witnesses" that you are a worthy warrior in the battalion of the yetzer tov. The English expression, "Lose a battle and win a war" applies. Certainly, you have stumbled and will stumble again (a self-fulfilling prophecy is not intended) and in many battles you will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing campaigns you will emerge from the war with laurels of victory upon your head and with the fresh prey quivering between your teeth. Lose battles but win wars.
The wisest of all men has said, "A just man falls seven times and rises again" [Mishlei 24:16]. Fools believe the intent of this verse is to teach us something remarkable - the just man has fallen seven times and yet he rises. But the knowledgeable are aware that the essence of the tzaddik's rising again is by way of his seven falls. " 'And He saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good.' 'Good': that is the yetzer tov. 'Very good': that is the yetzer hara" [Bereishis Rabbah 91.
My cherished one, I clasp you to my heart, and whisper in your ear that had your letter reported on your mitzvos and good deeds, I would have said that I had received a good letter from you. As things stand, with your letter telling of slumps and falls and obstacles, I say that I have received a very good letter from you. Your spirit is storming as it aspires to greatness. I beg of you, do not portray for yourself great men as being as one with their yetzer tov. Picture rather their greatness in terms of an awesome war with every base and low inclination.
When you feel the turmoil of the yetzer hara within yourself, know that with that feeling you resemble great men far more than with the feeling of deep peace, which you desire. In those very areas where you feel yourself failing most frequently - particularly in those areas - do you have the greatest potential for serving as an instrument of distinction for the honor of Hashem.