> Spirituality > Personal Growth

50 Days to Greatness

May 14, 2015 | by Harold Berman

To celebrate my turning 50, I am running five marathons this year and defying doctors’ gloomy predictions.

As a child, orthopedic specialists told me and my parents that I could function only with special shoes to compensate for my misshapen arches, that the problem extended up to my torso, and that by the age of 40, I would be reduced to hobbling around with chronically painful backaches.

This year, I turn 50. I don’t wear special shoes. My back feels fine. And I’m running marathons.

The author running in the Geneva MarathonThe author running in the Geneva Marathon

In Judaism, the number 50 signifies transcendence. We count the Omer leading up to the 50th day, transporting ourselves from Passover to Shavuot, transforming ourselves from the narrow confines of Egypt to the liberating revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Yovel – the Jubilee – takes place in the 50th year, at which time debts are forgiven, and property is returned to its original owners. In other words, society is transformed in previously unthinkable ways so that previously unknown potential can be realized.

To celebrate my turning 50, I am running five marathons this year, one for each decade. I recently ran the Geneva Marathon and 50 days before that, I ran the Jerusalem Marathon. I plan to run my third marathon a little over 50 days after that.

Why run five marathons in a year? Because it’s a goal that seems slightly impossible for me. Because 50 is all about transformation, and by attaining goals that are beyond what we previously thought possible, we grow beyond who we were before. Or rather, we become more fully the person we were meant to be, but didn’t know until we grew into our true capabilities.

Each of us has goals – physical, mental, spiritual – that seem slightly impossible. But they need not be. The Torah tells us that when the Jewish People left Egypt, they proceeded “in stages.” Similarly, we count the Omer from Passover to Shavuot just one day at a time. To go from abject slavery to receiving the Torah in just 50 days seems slightly impossible – unless we proceed “in stages,” one day at a time.

The author and his son in the Jerusalem MarathonThe author and his son in the Jerusalem Marathon

More than a few good runners have started out grossly overweight, and barely able to run or even walk from one mailbox to the next. By persevering “in stages,” adding one mailbox at a time, they ultimately were able to traverse the grueling 26.2 mile marathon distance. As I run these five marathons, I am also using the opportunity to raise funds for The Israel Sport Center for the Disabled who help victims of terror with missing limbs, children born with physical deformities – playing basketball, tennis, swimming, biking, martial arts – going beyond what many able-bodied people can even contemplate.

If they can conquer such towering obstacles, then can I allow something as trivial as getting a little older and having slightly less than ideal feet keep me from running marathons?

In 50 days, we can accomplish what we imagine is slightly impossible. But there’s a catch. We have to take that first step.

If we proceed in stages, we can transform our bodies from out of shape to healthy. In 50 days, we can read the entire Torah. In 50 days, we can learn a new skill that can transform our careers. In 50 days, we can turn around a relationship with someone close to us, learn the basics of a new language, start a business, break a bad habit, and literally thousands of other life-changing goals.

In 50 days, we can accomplish what we imagine is slightly impossible. But there’s a catch. We have to begin. We have to take that first step. As the Jewish People stood at the edge of the Sea of Reeds, panicked by the approaching Egyptian army, Moses tried to calm them, assuring them of God’s imminent deliverance. At that very moment, God said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.”

Had they not started going forward from the Egyptian sea, one step at a time, they never would have reached Mount Sinai. So it is in our own lives. If we start moving forward, proceed in stages, and keep going, what slightly impossible things might become surprisingly possible in the next 50 days, and beyond?

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