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The ultimate tutorial for surmounting every rock, mountain and cliff-hanger of life.

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing


Rock Climbing

The ultimate tutorial for surmounting every rock, mountain and cliff-hanger of life.
Struggle, Challenge & Adversity

Johnny is a lanky, youthful man of 50 who climbs telephone poles for a living and the Gunks for a hobby. That's where we found him, at the bottom of one of the classic climbs at the Mohonk Preserve in upstate New York. And that's who taught us everything we need to know about rock climbing—and about life climbing, too.

"The Gunks" are what people call the rock faces properly called the Shawangunk Ridge. You can watch the pros as they tackle the cliffs with minimal gear, leaving as little environmental footprint behind as possible. Is it exciting to watch? Nope. It's excruciating. As it is to climb—an art of excruciating patience and restraint.

All the wisdom you hear in this animation, we heard from Johnny. It all rang with familiarity—advice I was given again and again by my teachers as a young man, and that which I myself have given so many times.

It's the advice given in the "Rules of Torah Learning" (Hilchot Talmud Torah)—that someone who chew off chunks of Torah knowledge too big for himself is preparing for failure. Instead, the sages advise, take a small chunk and review, then another, then review, and so climb smoothly upward. Just as Johnny told us.

It's the advice given to those striving to repair their personality, to do "tikun ha-midot": Attempt to change your entire personality in a single swoop and and you awaken the most sinister darkness within to resist you—and pull you down. Instead, chase away those nasties one beast at a time, like the Torah says, "Slowly, slowly, I will chase them away from the Land." Sure, you may regress once in a while—what did you expect? Just do what any rock climber would do when he slips downward—don't fret, don't sweat, just pick yourself up and climb back up again, the same way you did it before.

And it's the advice every wise mentor gives to a Jew who wants to grow in his Jewishness—and figures he has to turn his entire world upside down in a single day. But like they say, what comes fast leaves even faster. So the mentor says, "Slow down, let's take this one step at a time. Sure, there are things you have to do right away—like basic kashrut, basic Shabbat and the basic mikvah rules. But the rest has to come gradually. You have to be comfortable and secure with your toe on one crevice before you climb for the next."

The last question we had for Johnny was if he ever looked down. I'll never forget the way he answered that. It wasn't about fear—it was about focus.

"I've been climbing telephone poles for 30 years," he said, "and I still never look down. Why would I want to? Look down and you're disoriented. You've lost what you're doing. If your goal is to move up, why look down?"

Happy Climbing!

Written and conceived by Tzvi Freeman. Rabbi Freeman is available for public speaking and workshops. Read more on his bio page.
Music by The Piamentas
Rabbi Infinity played by Andrew Torres
Animation and SFX by Pilar Newton of Pilar Toons
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Anonymous San Francisco December 3, 2015

Always remind myself to stay "focus" on the objective or purpose. Never strike me not to "look back" or "look down when my purpose is to climb up" .... very good article. Simple but profound. Thank you, Rabbi. Reply

Steven Kressel Cherry Hill, NJ October 4, 2011

Why not a gradual approach three Great article and good reactical advise.
It leaves open the obvious quests why the three "must do" mitzvot. Why are all other mitzvahs to be taken on gradually but these three must be done immediately and fully. Does one assume that these three or even each one is not an overwhelming effort? I think not.

Thanks Rabbi Reply

Shahid October 17, 2010

Best Lesson! This is the best lesson I have ever received. Slow and gradual learning is what works best. And no doubt, why look down, when I have to climb up.

Many thanks to Rabbi Freeman for such a great lesson! G-d bless him. Reply

Anonymous October 17, 2010

great!! the best one so far but pleas post it more often Reply

Carmen October 17, 2010

I wanted to say something, And the thing I chose to say is about a remembrance of my father obm, who had a quite tough and arduous life, losing his father after a stroke and a long while in a wheelchair, when he, my father, was only 19 years old, having a mother and a brother and a sister to keep... After (during, actually, I think) the pogroms came in Romania... after... well, a lot of a tough life, until his last day of life... A life of work, tough work, plenty of very difficult phases...

And he use to say - many times all through his life - that in the most difficult moments, when it really seemed that there was no more light in the way, there it came, always, the light in the end of the tunnel and the life could keep going on...

Well, that's life...

Hopefully we will be able to bathe in that light at the end of the tunnel once and for all and forever, to never see that tunnel again!

May this be now. Reply

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