Torah Musings: Climbing for Greatness


Climbing for Greatness

Sarah Pachter

One Sunday morning, our family decided to go rock wall climbing – a first time for me. What I expected to be just another Sunday activity turned out to be a fantastic metaphor for how humans grow and strive for greatness.

When we first walked in, I viewed the whole thing as somewhat of an indoor playground for adults. Over 100 people appeared to be in the room, climbing and standing atop grey structures with colorful climbing stones of all different shapes and sizes jutting out. I was expecting to harness up with an instructor, so I was quite surprised to see people rock climbing with no harnesses at all.

The entire floor of the arena was constructed of what looked like “moonbounce” material. As soon as my three-year old saw the floor under the man-made cliffs, she raced towards it and started jumping with delight.

After paying, we were handed special shoes and sent off to enjoy ourselves. On my first attempt, I hardly climbed 12 inches. Climbing was a lot harder than it looked! I guess the colorfulness of the equipment all made it seem user-friendly. And everyone else seemed to be reaching the top so speedily!

Truth be told, rock climbing is a real sport, and the participants take it very seriously. The following are four comparisons to life that I drew from my rock-climbing experience.

Have a Plan

I scoffed when my husband said he saw people mentally mapping out their next move before physically climbing. However, if we want to succeed, we need to plan. Later on, I noticed that the rocks went in a curvature toward the top, and I realized, Hey, I can move that way, too! It worked, and I was soon standing at the top on my next attempt upward.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Be Okay With Lateral Climbing

Initially, I assumed that the objective was simply to go up. But not every step in our climb needs to be vertical for us to reach the top. Reaching our goals sometimes requires moving sideways, often for longer than we would like.

It is similar to the stock market. Consider a graph of a single stock over 52 weeks. The graph goes up and down constantly, but after each low drop comes a higher point, spanning across time. This is called growth.

Growth is not a consistent, upward slant. There are good days and bad days; there are two steps forward and then one back. It is not actually possible to climb the wall without pausing, taking a step backwards, or even slipping down. Growth is seeing the whole picture, not worrying too much about each detail.

Do Not Look Up

There is a four-letter word that stops us all from getting to where we want to be in life: fear.

If you look up too much while climbing, you may become so overwhelmed that you will want to give up altogether. Growth is about tackling what is right in front of you. If we look one stone ahead, it is manageable. It is doable. Focus on the day, not the year. Before you know it, you will be at the top.

Consider this: “Living in the past makes us depressed, living too far into the future leaves us anxious.”

There’s another way in which looking up can hurt your rise to the top. In Judaism, there is a concept called nekudah habechirah, which means one’s “point of choice.” We all have our own level of what we are capable of choosing.

For example, for most of us, every time we pass by a jewelry store, we are not tempted to steal, no matter how much we admire the luxurious products in the window. We would never even consider such a thing, and therefore it is way below our choice point.

Similarly, there are mitzvot that are way beyond our personal choices. In other words, there are aspects of Judaism that are so challenging that they are out of reach, while others are so obvious, we no longer actively choose them. For example, sometimes my students feel overwhelmed by the concept of keeping Shabbat fully, and feel it is way too difficult for them at that moment in their busy lives.

When a difficulty arises, we must look inside to determine our point of choice. What is the point of struggle for us?

It is safe to say that Hashem only rewards and punishes us based on what is in our realm of choice. So, every time we pass a jewelry store and do not steal, we are not rewarded. However, if we are beginners just learning about Judaism for the first time, then we are not being punished for something that is out of reach to us, such as keeping Shabbat in every detail.

The rock wall is a perfect illustration of this “choice box.” I do not need to worry about the very top; it is not what I am dealing with right now. Once I have passed the rocks below me, I will find myself at a new baseline. The only thing that matters is the step that is right in front of me. If I focus just on the next step, I can reach the top before I know it.

Reach Just a Tiny Bit Higher

As I was climbing the midsection of the wall, I had reached a standstill. I found that I could not easily go any higher, but going down was equally as hard based on my slanted position. I was stuck. I wanted to let go and just let the moonbounce floor catch me. But before I did, I said to myself, Let me see if I can reach that one…

I reached up – nothing. Then I stretched myself just a little more – and my hand felt the next stone! Success!

In life, we have to reach just a fraction of a hair higher than we think we can. This is how we get what we are aspiring for.

We are all scared to fall, or to fail, but the worst thing that’s going to happen is that we will have to try again. Every now and then we will get a new scratch or scrape, but what is the fun of growth if it is always easy? Just like in life, no matter how hard and far away something seems, know that nothing is impossible; you are living in a God-made world, after all. Just commit, have trust in yourself, and go for it.