Our hike didn't begin as planned.

We were fashionably late, but that was thanks to African, not Jewish, time. We had all gathered in the right place at the right time. Our luggage hadn't. We were in Kilimanjaro airport, our food was still in Nairobi.

Our group of twelve had come to Tanzania to tackle Mt. Meru, an extinct volcano that rises some 15,000 feet into the deep-blue African sky. We were a diverse crew, from twenty-somethings to a sprightly doctor in his sixties who would astonish us by pushing himself all the way to the summit. Twelve individuals, we were, with a wide range of religious observance. We began this trip as individuals – but were to return as a single unit.

Northern Tanzania doesn't see many Jews passing through, so our skullcaps, beards and tzitzit attracted attentionUnder the leadership of Rabbi Dovid Katz, Chabad of Hendon in London arranges a yearly trek in an exotic location. The trips' goals are to tackle a physical challenge, raise funds through sponsorship for the Chabad House and offer the participants a spiritually uplifting experience. I was the guest rabbi who was brought along to inspire, but landed up being inspired.

As the African in this predominantly English group, I wasn't surprised at the laisez-faire attitude of the locals. Africa is nonchalant by nature and things progress at a leisurely pace.

"Your luggage should be on the next flight," they assured us. "In an hour you will be on your way. If not, it will all be on the following flight, or possibly the one after that…"

Either way, we had enough time for morning prayers, so we set off to find a suitable location. Kilimanjaro Airport has never hosted a minyan, a group of at least ten men praying together, so we chose, instead, to use the parking lot.

Northern Tanzania doesn't see many Jews passing through, so our skullcaps, beards and tzitzit attracted attention. When our tefillin came out, we became the main act, with a large, bemused audience.

It was Monday, one of the weekdays when the Torah is read. We had to think of a practical spot to place our Torah on so that we could read. We convinced a local resident that his car would be blessed if he allowed us to read our scroll on top of its trunk. He obliged and momentarily a large group of curious onlookers gathered to witness the first ever Torah reading in that remote location.

As we finished praying, the next flight from Nairobi arrived. The suitcases and food did not.

We had to get moving to ensure that we'd reach the hike's overnight camp in time. Rabbi Katz stayed back to meet the cases and we headed off in the direction of Meru.

Our bus weaved and careened its way down the narrow, muddy road to Arusha National Park, barely dodging pedestrians, bicycles, goats and chickens. A brief stop at the gate, an even bumpier ride and we were "there."

That's when I noticed we couldn't see the top of the mountainOur group looked ready to conquer Everest, in our boots, Ray-Bans, water bottles and overloaded backpacks. Our bodies tingled with anticipation as our minds focused on the challenge ahead. We were ready.

That's when I noticed we couldn't see the top of the mountain. In fact, we couldn't see most of the mountain – it was mostly above the cloud. Doubt flitted through my mind. If the top was too high to see, was it too high to reach?

I had hiked Table Mountain in Cape Town and that hadn't been easy; the Amphitheatre of the South African Drakensberg had been trying too. Yet, I clearly remembered seeing the tops of both those mountains before setting off to conquer them.

This mountain was high.

It was just as well that I had trained properly for this hike.

I'm not talking about four months of daily power-walks (although those certainly helped); I mean the real training, which happened in the library, not the gym. I had invested time exploring the spiritual angle on mountains.

Kabbalah describes two kinds of mountains: Mountains of "light" and mountains of "darkness."

A mountain is a piece of earth that has been forced skyward. It represents the way a person strives to rise from the banality of life to get closer to G‑d. That may even explain where the human urge to climb mountains comes from – the innate soul-calling to rise beyond normalcy.

Sometimes you can predict your spiritual trajectory in advance; you can see where your spiritual path will lead you. Even before you take the first step of your odyssey, you know where you plan to end up.

That is a mountain of "light," a mountain with a peak you can spot from the ground.

Climbing that sort of a mountain takes effort, but it makes sense. You appreciate that every step you take brings you that much closer to your objective. You can always find doable mountains to conquer, using mind-power to take you to your goal.

Occasionally, you need to take a leap of faith, to go for a goal so impossible you cannot see yourself doing it.

That's the mountain of darkness; the peak is so high, you can't tell where it is. You need to trust other people to guide you to where you never would have believed you could go.

It's more difficult than you could ever imagine, almost breaking you in the processClimbing that sort of mountain takes everything you've got. It's more difficult than you could ever imagine, almost breaking you in the process. Many times along the way, you feel like you'll never get there or that you're wasting your time. Mind-power will not push you to such a summit; logic will argue that you should not waste your energy.

"Nothing stands in the way of sheer will." To climb higher than you can imagine requires willpower, a leap of faith coupled with unwavering determination. When you do reach the top, you will be a changed person.

The clouds remained suspended above us, obscuring Meru's peak. We were ready for the impossible.

It took quite some time to actually get started. We had to meet our guides, gather the porters who would schlep the real load up the mountain, sign the indemnity forms and meet the armed game ranger assigned to our group before we set off.

With a last backward glance at the kiosk selling soda, we bade farewell to civilization and headed out into nature. The ranger cautioned us to keep together for fear of running into wild animals alone. Most of the group laughed his warnings off and jogged off, rounded a corner and came face to face with a herd of buffalo.

Buffalo look like oversized oxen and appear placid and slow. Get too close, and they are extremely dangerous; even lions tread carefully around these creatures.

Perched on a mountainside, watching the endless glittering lights, you feel tinyDays one and two of the hike took us through a kaleidoscopic landscape of moss-covered forest, towering trees and tranquil streams. Birds and monkeys scampered overhead and an occasional antelope darted across our path. We had entered a time warp, thrown back to a sample of earth during Creation – still unspoiled by humans. Walking six-astride through the legendary "Fig Tree," or gazing out over cloud at tiny lakes thousands of feet beneath us, we were supremely conscious of G‑d's magnificent creation.

As day two drew to a close, and we approached our hutted accommodation for the night, we began to feel our bodies strain against the mountain's incline. After a magical sunset reflected off snow-kissed Kilimanjaro, we watched the stars appear. Far from city lights and higher than the clouds, the view of stars is unlike anything you may witness in the city. The night sky literally appears infinite.

Perched on a mountainside, watching the endless glittering lights, you feel tiny. The vastness of Creation humbles you and illustrates clearly the magnitude of what G‑d recreates every nanosecond with just a few sentences.

After dinner, we quickly headed to bed to catch a few hours sleep ahead of our 2AM start for the summit.

Trying to sleep was futile. Between our belabored breathing (due to the high altitude), the biting cold and our nervous, anxious anticipation of the climb ahead, none of us slept.

Shortly after two, we were on our way. A small pool of light from our headlamps illuminated the area just ahead of each hiker. The diamond-speckled sky was breathtaking, but we were too focused on breathing to notice. The challenge had begun.

We progressed painstakingly slowly, the air was icy, but we were upbeat. I wondered why the guides insisted on doing the majority of the day's climb in the dark…

An hour into the hike we hit a rocky outcrop, which we had to scramble across. This would take us around to the back of the mountain, from where we could approach the top (the front of the mountain became an impassable ridge at this point).

For close to four hours, they told us we were "about halfway"After that, the incline rose sharply. We seemed to be walking up and up without ever leveling off. I felt like a child in the backseat on a long road trip, asking again and again, "How much further? When will we be there?"

Our guides wisely assured us it wasn't much longer. For close to four hours, they told us we were "about halfway" and for the remaining two-and-a-half hours promised we had "only twenty minutes more." These guys must have done a crash course in Psychology 101.

As we trudged up the never ending slope, various thoughts cascaded through my tired mind.

Each morning we read in prayers that every living creature praises G‑d. The Talmud, relates the word "neshama," or soul, to "neshima," breath, teaching that our obligation is to praise G‑d for every breath we take.

Breathing at high altitude is hard work; you take slow steps, pause frequently to catch your breath, and feel a dull ache in your chest at all times. We experienced first hand how you praise G‑d for every breath you take.

I've often wondered why the Talmud says that you should pray the most central part of prayers, the Amidah, with your eyes cast down and your heart directed upwards. Simply put, prayer is a time for humility and focusing on the One Above.

Trekking up Meru taught me another perspective on this Torah law. As dawn's light crept in from the east, we could make out the silhouette of the mountain – and how far we still had to go. Looking up at our goal was disheartening; we had been walking for over four hours and still had so far to go. I kept watching my feet to ensure that my next step was safely placed on solid ground. My heart was directed "up" – towards the mountain top, but to actually get there, I needed to focus my eyes "down."

Goals within Judaism often seem unreachable, but when you focus on the process step-by-step, and celebrate small achievements, you're well on your way to the top. Keeping your eyes on the next step will get you to where your heart already is.

Sometimes you get further in life when you don't see the whole picture in advanceAn exquisite array of pink, fiery orange and deep blue colored the Eastern horizon as the sun peeked over Mt. Kilimanjaro. Way below, an endless sea of thick, rolling cloud stretched out. Morning had arrived, exposing the sharp slopes on both sides, and the rocky cliffs we had traversed in the black of night.

"Crazy," I mused, "to think that we had walked this knife's edge so high up, without seeing a thing!" On second thoughts, I realized, if we had seen the treacherous terrain, we would certainly have turned back. Sometimes you get further in life when you don't see the whole picture in advance, but you trust a guide who knows the way.

We all learned some of the mumbo-jumbo language called Swahili on this trip. Mumbo means "hello" and jumbo, "how are you?" But, the most vital Swahili words we encountered were repeated over and over again by our guides, all the way up the mountain: "Polé, Polé."

After dawn, we assumed we were close to the top. Abel, our chief guide, broke the news. We still had another two hours to go. Our legs were cramping, our lungs ached, it was intensely cold and lack of sleep had drained us. The murmurs began: "Let's head back down, we've already seen and experienced enough."

Our guides were having none of this. "Don't lose your hope!" they chastised us. Keep moving, "Polé, Polé," slowly, slowly.

Simple words from simple people. Simple truth.

Is this not what Judaism is all about – to "never lose hope"?

Ashamed of our faith-wobble and encouraged by our guides, we set off again. Two hours later, the mountain peak, a goal that had been invisible from the ground, came into view. We stood poised to achieve the impossible, and we had gotten there only by moving forward "polé, polé."

Everything you need to know about Judaism, you could learn from the mountain.

The last stretch seemed to take forever. There was no path now and we were gingerly edging our way up a near-vertical rock-face. Suddenly, Rabbi Katz rounded a corner and shouted: "I see the flag!" (There's a Tanzanian flag at the peak).

If he could see the flag, we had to be there! Adrenaline propelled me round the corner.

I looked up.

I saw the flag!

It was still an impossible sixty feet up.

My enthusiasm waned as I stared at the forbidding cliff above usThe adrenaline drained and my enthusiasm waned as I stared at the forbidding cliff above us. "Only" sixty feet to go; it may as well have been sixty miles. It felt as though we would never get there.

It slowly dawned on me: The Rebbe told us how we'd see the flag of redemption, and though it has taken longer than we had imagined, it is right there, waiting for us to make the final push.

No welcoming band played when we set foot on the summit; no fireworks went off and the heavens didn't open. We felt happy, but the full force of our achievement didn't dawn on us then. (In fact, I only truly appreciated our achievement when we sighted the mountain peak above the clouds from the plane's window).

Ironically, on top of the mountain, in the heart of pristine nature, you can get cell-phone reception on top of the mountain. Many of us sent text messages to family and friends, telling them we had made it to the top of the world.

Before I could truly savor the experience, a synagogue member who had previously climbed Kilimanjaro messaged back: "Well done! Just remember, you still have to get down."

It is exhilarating to conquer such a challenge and to stand way above the clouds. But, people can't live on a mountaintop. The terrain is completely arid and there is no water or vegetation. You are vulnerable to extreme cold at night and exposed to direct sunlight during the day. Your lungs don't take in enough oxygen at that height and altitude sickness can quickly set in.

Striving to spiritual heights is very commendable, but the real challenge is to translate the soul's high into value-added living back on the ground. We began the long trek down, contemplating how to inject our elation from the climb into Torah and mitzvot.

It didn't take us long. We arrived back at base camp together with a thickening mist. Just arriving at base camp on his way up was a young Jewish fellow from San Francisco. The last thing he imagined doing in Africa was donning tefillin, but when a group of Jews materialized out of Meru's mist and asked him to do a mitzvah, he couldn't refuse.

We put tefillin on Israelis in Arusha and reminded an American Jewish woman on safari to light Shabbat candles that Friday. We called a businessman up to the Torah in the lobby of his hotel and brought the taste of Shabbat to a dozen Israelis who landed up at the same hotel as us.

When a group of Jews materialized out of Meru's mist and asked him to do a mitzvah, he couldn't refuseThe hotel couldn't do enough for us, they allocated part of their kitchen for our use, created a special Shabbat table for us and cleared the TV room for us to use as a synagogue. The head chef personally chopped vegetables for our salad and opened the storeroom for us to pick any kosher products we needed. He proudly presented us with fresh fish straight from the neighboring lake, because he knew they had fins and scales.

And, if you ever visit the Serena Lodge at Lake Manyara, don't be surprised to find cholent on the regular menu. The chef is hooked.