Sunday, August 4, 2013


The Ascent to Greatness

Each week we receive a new lesson that seems impossible to achieve. How can we possibly make such a drastic change in our behavior that has become so much a part of who we are? Each lesson puts us to the test with another seemingly unattainable task.

The month of Elul arrives this week. It is now a time to slow down and take a deeper look at ourselves, something most of us shy away from. Yet if we are brave enough to face our flaws, we will be able to take an honest accounting of our selves, to look directly into the depths of our being to see what it is we want to improve upon. It's so easy to blame others when "things" aren't right, now it's time to keep the focus on ourselves. No blaming, no judgments, no criticism, just you. It's time to look back at the year and see what can you do to become a better version of yourself? Not an easy task.

As a massive mountain to climb, we look to the top and don't know how we could possibly manage the ascent. When we look at its awesome size, it appears unreachable. Doubt overwhelms us, we feel frozen and unable to move forward. All we can see is a massive structure that seems to disappear into the clouds. The safe landing spot is invisible from our perspective on the ground. How could we even consider that we will succeed, especially with the weight of our heavy baggage holding us down? The task seems impossible.

Unless, we perceive it as an "ascent to greatness." No matter what lies in front of us- with all the unforeseen challenges that we may have to face, we know we are properly equipped. We have learned the ropes. We have prepared ourselves for the challenges that will test us to the core. When we are inspired to make the "ascent to greatness," we leave behind the heavy baggage and only take the equipment we need to get us to our goal. As we "ascend to greatness" we see new possibilities that inspire us to uplift ourselves. When we leave the "unnecessary baggage" behind, we feel the freedom to transform ourselves and forge a new path......
the path to greatness.

When climbing a mountain,
we have to learn the ropes.
When climbing a mountain,
each step becomes a mysterious challenge.
When climbing a mountain,
our vision is limited....
only to what is in front of us
and the sky above us.

We cannot look down and there's no turning back. The only thing that motivates us to take the next step is in knowing that we successfully completed the preceding step. Each little step becomes a monumental achievement. All that matters is to stay focused in the moment, to be experiencing the thrill of each moment as it occurs, no thoughts of the moment before. There is no past, except the one that provided you with a lesson to become stronger and wiser to manage future obstacles.

At first glance, the mountains seem overwhelming and impossible. But, with the proper instruction, equipment and spiritual vision we can free ourselves to reach new heights. Sometimes holding onto the edge, we feel as if we're going to fall. As we look at the huge rock solid foundation that supports us, we see the mountain stands awesome, stable and grounded. All we have to do is keep our ropes tight, find the place to grab on to, take the next step, find our inner strength to pull ourselves up.

With the right equipment supporting us, we look forward and keep our eyes on the Heavens. As we scale the great mountain, we may feel the fatigue, as if we can't manage another step, but as long as we keep our eyes focused on the Heavens and our strength, each step becomes energized and we lift ourselves all the way to the top.

In "mussar mountain climbing" our journey is the same. The focus is only on what's in front of us and what is above us. Where we came from and how far we have to go is irrelevant. The only thing that matters.... is taking that next step. The mussar lessons are our equipment that keeps us grounded and supported to the rock solid foundation (the Torah) through our struggle. Nothing holds us back. The winds of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) may swirl around and try to knock us off the path but our equipment and our knowledge keep us safe and able to overcome the obstacles. The avalanche of negative thoughts may be looming around the corner but; if we are aware, on guard and ready to protect ourselves- we can maintain our balance and our safety so that we don't get swept away or buried beneath it.
Our weakest moment can the time to achieve spiritual greatness.

Our job, as we scale the mountain- is to keep our eyes up and never look back- always looking towards Shemayim (the Heavens). No matter how rough the terrain may get, even when the challenges seem unbearable and there's no ledge to grab on to- we must stay focused on the next step without ever looking down. If we keep our equipment in good condition, if we prepare in advance for the challenges and if we live in the moment- we will be able to pull ourselves up with all our strength and all our might.... to successfully take the next step. If we don't look back, we become inspired to reach new spiritual heights. If we look towards the sky, we see the mountain above us, waiting for us with open arms. Without the weight of the "unnecessary baggage, we feel free to fly upward and ascend to greatness. With inspiration, dedication, knowledge and commitment- we can take the next step and reach for the top.

When one reaches the top- he hasn't conquered the mountain- he has conquered himself. Today is your day…your mountain is waiting.

There is a story of a man climbing a mountain, suddenly he misses a step and his rope breaks. As he feels himself falling, he reaches out and finds a branch to grab hold of, leaving him hanging over the edge. The man cries out, "G-d, I was never much of a believer before but, if you are out there, please help me now. I'll do anything you say.' And the man hears a voice thundering from the Heavens. G-d answers him.... "I'm here for you. Are you sure you trust me? Will you do anything I say?" The man answers in a trembling voice, "Yes, of course, I'll do anything. " G-d answers, "Let go of the branch."
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