Rosh Hashana and 959 Failed Driver’s Tests

Rosh Hashana and 959 Failed Driver’s Tests

959 times.

That’s how many times 69-year-old Korean grandmother Cha Sa-soon failed her driver’s test until she finally passed last November on her 960th try.

“In my village, if you miss the bus,” Mrs. Cha explained, “you have to wait another two hours. Talk about frustration! But I was too busy raising my four children [to get a driver’s license]. Eventually my kids all grew up and went away and my husband died several years ago, and I had more time to myself. I wanted to get a driver’s license so I could take my grandchildren to the zoo.”

So for five years, week after week, Mrs. Cha would travel an hour each way by bus from her remote village to the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles in order to put down her $5 and take her written driver’s test…one more time.

But the test was nearly impossible for Mrs. Cha to understand. As a child, Mrs. Cha had worked in her family’s fields instead of attending junior high school, so while she had basic reading skills, it was extremely difficult for her to read and make sense of technical driving terms such as traffic light or rearview mirror.

But Mrs. Cha didn’t give up. For years, she would wake up at 4 AM every morning, get out her reading spectacles, and review yet again her well-worn driver’s test study guide.

Mrs. Cha’s son says about his mother’s unusual determination, “Mother has lived a hard life, selling vegetables door to door and working on other people’s farms. Maybe that made her stubborn. If she puts her mind to something, no one can argue her out of it.”

At long last, this past November, at the age of 69, Mrs. Cha received a passing grade of 60 on her written driver’s test. Mrs. Cha’s driving instructor recalls, “When she finally passed, we all went out in cheers and hugged her, giving her flowers…It felt like a huge burden falling off our back. [For all those years] we didn’t have the guts to tell her to quit because she kept showing up.”

Once Mrs. Cha received her license, after failing her road test 8 times, Mrs. Cha became an instant national celebrity. 1000s of Koreans wrote to congratulate her. Hyundai gave her a $16,000 car and made her the star of a prime-time TV commercial.

On the mostly bare wall of her home, Mrs. Cha has posted 3 objects. A black-and-white photograph of herself and her late husband. A watch that stopped ticking years ago. And a misspelled hand-written sign that reads “NEVER GIVE UP!”

This week, the New York Times’ article about Mrs. Cha and her 959 failed driver’s tests is the paper’s #1 Emailed article. Which makes me wonder why I and so many people love this story so much.

Maybe it’s because all of us fail. And almost all of us give up. We give up on our dreams and we give up on ourselves.

But I’m also thinking it’s not a coincidence that tens of thousands of people are reading Mrs. Cha’s story right in time for Rosh Hashana.

Because Mrs. Cha’s story, I think, is the story of Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana is the holiday of Ratson, when Hashem reminds us that nobody in the whole world is perfect. But what God wants from us more than anything else is to continue wanting… To be the best mom we can be. To be the best person we can be. To be the best Jew we can be. No matter if we fail once, or twice, or 959 times.

And if you desire something spiritual, and you want it bad enough, then you will ALWAYS get what you desire in the end. Our Sages teach us it’s a sure thing.

Just like Mrs. Cha, who failed 959 times, and never stop wanting, dreaming, hoping, until she was driving her grandchildren up and down through the Korean countryside all the way to the zoo.

Based on the New York Times article “At First She Didn’t Succeed, but She Tried and Tried Again (960 Times)” by Choe Sang-Hun, September 3, 2010

Related posts:

Turbo Teshuva: 5 Minutes a Day to a Meaningful Elul (16-Minute Mommy Peptalk Video)
Feeling Hashem's Love at Difficult Times (11-Minute Mommy Peptalk)
Modeh Ani by Omer Adam (3-Minute Music Video)

4 comments

  1. What a wonderful Rosh Hashana message. Thinking about what is our real ratzon is so basic, we sometimes forget it.
    Thank you.
    Shana Tova!

  2. While the message of persistence and never giving up is a beautiful one, it does scare me a bit that someone who can barely understand the road signs and failed an on-road test 8 times is out on the road behind a wheel… May she be safe and keep her grandchildren safe as she takes them to the zoo!

  3. Michelle, I had the exact same thought! maybe she is better off not driving! but then again – obviously the tests are strict and difficult to pass, so if she finally did pass, she is a decent driver – ?!?!?
    The article does not indicate where Mrs. Cha resides. Some states now require people over 70 to take new road tests every year or so – let’s hope Mrs. Cha takes another road test soon.
    Driving is serious business. Not the place to help people prove their persistence or grow their self-esteem.

  4. What a wonderful message, Chana, and just at the right time when I had so many thoughts and emotions going around in my head, at the end of Yom Tov. While I wasn’t sure if I had managed the right balance between the Spiritual and Physical on Rosh Hashannah, your message reminded me that I had – because I was striving, and I keep striving to be the best mom I can be, to be the best person and the best Jew I can be. Even if I fail at times, the message of keep trying was a much needed one – so thank you!

    As it is my birthday tonight, my Bracha to you and all the other Jewish mothers around the world, is that we should keep having the Koach to keep trying and striving to be the best moms we can be and that B’Chasdei Hashem we will merit to see all of our children continue along His path together with their families.

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