“The hardest part of climbing is the fall.”

I'm standing with my instructor at the foot of a snow-covered mountain. Strong winds wail as they rush by, hurling small beads of snow in their passing and slapping my face with the icy cold. I huddle deeper into my thick down coat.

I look at him in surprise. "Isn't falling the last thing you want to happen when climbing?"

The instructor chuckles. He has to shout to be heard over the wind. "Yeah. It is. But it happens. The wind knocks you off course, your foot slips, the rope comes loose. You fall. Most people are so terrified of falling, so focused on making sure they never do, they don't know what to do when it happens."

I look up at the mountain looming above us. It just seems to ascend higher, eventually becoming lost in clouds. I swallow.

"Most times, you manage to catch yourself when you slip. But sometimes you can't. And then you fall."

I stare, captivated by his words.

"There's a moment, when you fall, that everything seems to stands still. You see the earth coming towards you, but you haven't hit it yet. It feels like you can fall forever. And then you hit.

"What makes the fall so bad isn't the fall itself. Sure, you may hurt yourself. Maybe even break something. But that's not the really bad part. It's getting up again. Getting up, bruised, battered, maybe worse, and looking up at how far you've fallen. And starting to climb again."

I jerk awake, body clammy with sweat. I stare blindly around the room for a moment, panting, tangled in my blankets. Slowly, I calm down, recognize my bedroom. I turn to the clock – 4:45am. I sigh and rub a hand across my eyes.

Just a dream.

I lie back down again. Listen to the sound of my heartbeat, the ticking of the clock. I practice breathing slowly to calm my still thudding breath. What a weird dream. I've never climbed a thing in my life. I mentally shrug, turn over, and try to go back to sleep.

Yet sleep proves elusive for the remainder of the night.

I can't focus that day at work. I keep thinking I can feel that snowy wind every time someone opens a window, hear the instructor's words whenever the office falls quiet. I try to put it out of my mind, but I catch myself thinking about it when I'm not paying attention.

By the time the day finally crawls to an end, I can barely keep my eyes open. I all but float home, my mind swimming in a groggy haze of exhaustion. I absently-mindedly put something in the oven to eat, plop down on the couch. Somehow, I manage to stay awake for the next three hours, keeping myself occupied with activities I can barely remember the moment I complete them.

Finally, I crawl into bed. I'm asleep almost as soon as I hit the pillow.

"The hardest part of climbing is the fall."

I wake up soaked in cold sweat. The dream again, the same dream. I get up, wash my face, pace my room, go back to bed. It doesn't help. I can't fall back asleep.

I sigh. This is going to be rough day.

The week passes by in a blur. Has it been a week? Oh man, what day is it?"

"The wind knocks you off course, your foot slips, the rope comes loose."

Days blend, work becomes forgotten. The dream comes back, every night. Every day, it torments me.

"You fall."

I'm so tired. When was the last time I slept?

"...everything stands still."


"And then you hit."

I don't even know what day it is anymore. My life revolves around the dream now.

Icy winds, frozen snow. A huge mountain.


"...bruised, battered, maybe even worse..."

Oh G‑d, I just need to sleep.

"The hardest part of climbing is the fall."

"Sir, are you OK?"

I look around blindly, lost in my thoughts. I'm standing on a sidewalk. I don't recognize this part of town, don't remember walking here. A man in a coat is staring at me in concern.


The man comes closer. "Are you OK? You've been standing there for a few minutes now, just muttering something about falling. Do you need help?"

It takes me a moment to focus long enough to understand him. "No? No, no it's Ok. I'm fine. Just been a long week. Thank you."

I walk past him, turn the corner. I'm still walking when I realize I have nowhere to go. I don't even know how to get home. I look around, searching for signs, and notice a synagogue across the road.

I swallow.

It's been a long time.

After a moment, I cross the road.

The synagogue is dark, filled with long pews facing the front. I sit in one, head bent, thinking. After some time, the door opens behind me. I stay in my place, eyes downcast as the synagogue echoes with approaching footsteps and quiet voices. A hollow click sounds as one of the men turn on the lights, causing me to squint.

After a few minutes, I hear footsteps echo on the floor as someone approaches. I look up. It’s the rabbi. The pew creaks as he sits down beside me.

He studies me for a moment. “You look familiar. You used to pray here, didn’t you?”

“A long time ago.”

“What happened?”

I turn away. “I fell.”

He nods, as if he knows exactly what I mean. “And now?”

“I…I don’t know. I’ve been told that the hardest part of climbing is the fall. Getting back up again. Trying again. Can I ever get back to where I was? Should I? What if…” I fall silent.

“What if you fall again?” He finishes the sentence for me, the words soft, filled with understanding, as if he’s had this conversation many times before. “What if this time, you can’t get back up?”

I nod.

“Do you know what makes falling so hard? It’s not getting back to where you were. It’s thinking that you have to today. I don’t know what the future will bring – how high you’ll climb, whether you’ll fall again, whether you’ll get back up. But what I do know is that the possibilities of the future don’t change what’s in front of you today. Today you don’t need to climb a mountain. Today, you need to get on your feet. You need to take a step. That’s all you can do.”

I look up at him. He smiles back at me.

“We’re trying to make a minyan for the evening prayers. We could really use a tenth man.”