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Megillah 6b states:

ואמר ר' יצחק אם יאמר לך אדם יגעתי ולא מצאתי אל תאמן לא יגעתי ומצאתי אל תאמן יגעתי ומצאתי תאמן הני מילי בדברי תורה אבל במשא ומתן סייעתא

Rabbi Yitzḥak said: If a person says to you "I have labored and not found success," do not believe him. Similarly, if he says to you "I have not labored but nevertheless I have found success," do not believe him. If, however, he says to you: I have labored and I have found success, believe him.
This applies to matters of Torah, but with regard to success in business- it all depends upon assistance from Heaven

3 scenarios are stated in this gemara:

  • a) Labored and not found success - DO NOT believe
  • b) Not labored and found success - DO NOT believe
  • c) Labored AND found success - DO believe

I understand how b) makes sense- a person who hasn't worked hard likely won't find success. I also understand how c) makes sense: a person who has labored and toiled over learning Torah will likely find success.

It's a) that I'm having trouble understanding.

What does "I have labored in Torah study and haven't found success- don't believe him" mean? Does this mean the person really did find success in learning yet for whatever reason is not telling the truth about it? (why would someone say such a statement)

How to make sense of this statement?

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    I always understood it as: I have exhausted my resources/abilities and still was unsuccessful... i.e. he claims he did the best he could - he himself may believe as such, but he's wrong, or he would have succeeded. – Loewian Sep 10 '19 at 5:15
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    I have always understood it to mean he did indeed find success but he's modest / so intimidated by the vast amount he still doesn't know that he doesn't consider what objectively should be called success to in fact be success. – Josh K Sep 10 '19 at 5:26
  • @JoshK I also was thinking that perhaps it's a modesty thing... but it still seems odd. Namely, that he's not modest about the fact he studied a lot of Torah, yet is modest by saying he hasn't found success? (ie why isn't he modest across the board) – alicht Sep 10 '19 at 5:33
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    What's the problem? It seems to be saying that it's impossible to not succeed if you labor. Whether someone is lying, misinformed, or modest when claiming that they have labored but not succeeded would presumably depend on the individual situation. – Alex Sep 10 '19 at 5:36
  • @Loewian so I think what you're suggesting is that we don't believe him when he says "I labored?" – alicht Sep 10 '19 at 5:37
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If you have laboured in תורה, that itself is success, you have had a successful life (day, week whatever). merriam-webster.com defines success as a "favorable or desired outcome". The mitzvah is לימוד התורה not ידיעת התורה. Furthermore חז"ל tell us לפום צערא אגרא. Says the Kotzker: If you have toiled you have been successful.

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  • Fascinating! Is it your own idea, or whose? – msh210 Sep 10 '19 at 11:00
  • @msh210, honestly no idea, I feel like I heard it somewhere but not sure. I wish I could bring a source. – nosh Sep 10 '19 at 13:04
  • This is cute, but makes no sense in context as juxtaposed against business where the destination and not the journey is the obvious success we are dealing with. The gemara didn't differentiate between Torah and business by saying success for one is the journey while success for the other is the result, the gemara differentiated between hard work and help from Hashem. – user6591 Oct 28 '20 at 7:47
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Normally we define success as having succeeded in what you set out to do. However with Torah we have a rule nephesh amalah amalah lo - If you learn one part of Torah the Torah can make itself understood to you in a different area. So you may not progress with the area you are grappling with, but you may be currently unaware that the light of the Torah has been revealed to you in a different area.

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  • This is cute, but makes no sense in context as juxtaposed against business where the task at hand and not success at some unknown level is the obvious success we are dealing with. The gemara didn't differentiate between Torah and business by saying success for one is anything, even unbeknownst to one searching, while success for the other is only the task at hand, the gemara differentiated between the two like successes as being hard work vs help from Hashem. – user6591 Oct 28 '20 at 7:57
  • I don't think the Maharal would agree with your kashye (because the Maharal seems to assume that if chazal were not challenging the essential notions with which people think then they wouldn't have said anything). – The GRAPKE Oct 28 '20 at 22:24

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