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!