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Climbing to the Top

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Answering Rosh Hashana's question: Did you do as much as you could with the gifts the Almighty gave you?

I can't imagine scaling Mount Everest under the most optimal of conditions. Could you imagine doing it blind?

Erik Weihenmayer was the first blind climber to do it. The feat seems beyond comprehension. While reading a recent Fast Company interview with him, it wasn't the climbing of this ultimate peak that moved me, as sensational as that surely was; it was his wise attitude towards life.

When asked if anything was possible, Weihenmayer answered, "No -- there are limits. I mean, I can't drive a car. But there are good questions and bad questions in life. The bad questions are what-if questions. What if I were smarter, or stronger? What if I could see? Those are dead-end questions. A good question is, How do I do as much as I can with what I have?"

That's the question we all need to answer. It's the primary question we will all need to respond to on the ultimate Day of Judgment. "Did you do as much as you could with the gifts I gave you?" And it's the question we need to respond to every year on Rosh Hashana. "Did I do as much as I could with the gifts the Almighty gave me?"

Very few of us do. Luckily our Father in Heaven is a kind and generous one - and He gives us a chance to try again. Will I make a better effort in the future to achieve my true potential?

"Why do I have to learn math problems?" grumbled my young son. "What difference does it make?"

"The Almighty gave you a good head with an ability to think in many different ways and He wants you to develop all those ways so you can use your head in the best way possible."

I inferred from his responding grunt and return to the book he was reading that he found my explanation helpful!

But it's true. We've all seen the diagrams showing us what a small amount of our brain power we actually use. But it's not just our brain power that gets the short- shrift. Are we maximizing our capacity for kindness? Are we giving all that we could? Have we developed our patience to the max? Are we deepening our gratitude to those who have done well for us? Are we exercising the muscles of our positive character traits and marshalling our energies to appropriately channel our negative ones?

As Weihenmayer clearly stated, we all have limits. We may be too short for pro-basketball, not wealthy enough to fund cancer research, not creative enough to choreograph a ballet. It doesn't matter. We have each been given a set of talents with which to actualize our potential. That's our job description.

The Almighty's not going to compare my dancing abilities to Baryshnikov or my painting to Monet. But He will ask about some of that time I wasted lying around reading magazines when I could have been doing and growing. He will ask why I didn't do more with what I had.

There's only one person you have to make the most of -- you. At Rosh Hashana, we reaffirm that commitment to ourselves and the Almighty.

You don't have to cook like Julia Child to feed your family and friends a delicious, healthy meal. You don't have to decorate your home like Martha Stewart to create an atmosphere of caring and comfort. You don't have to parent like Dr. Spock (in fact, it's better you don't!) in order for your children to feel loved and appreciated.

There's only one person you have to be like -- you. There's only one person you have to make the most of -- you. At Rosh Hashana, we reaffirm that commitment to ourselves and the Almighty: I will strive to be the best that I can be. To make it more than just a slogan, the key is in the actualization. Our commitment must come with concurrent actions. What will I do today different than yesterday?

We have to make a plan and then check in with ourselves at the end of the day to ensure we've adhered to it. Our credibility -- with the Almighty, and with ourselves -- is on the line. Did I push myself just a little bit more today than I did yesterday? Did I venture just one step outside my comfort zone?

We don't understand the grand plan -- why one person's challenge is wealth and another's poverty, hers illness and his health, hers a sharp business mind and his an artistic bent. But the Almighty has given us the ability to live up to our challenges, to make the most of them and to flourish.

Think of the tremendous amount of willpower and determination it took Erik Weihenmayer to climb Mount Everest, the planning and the perseverance. To keep on pushing, step after step.

That's the job we all have -- to keep on pushing. To believe in ourselves and in the Almighty's support. To be both realistic and hopeful.

One of Weihenmayer's strategies was to surround himself with "good people who make me stronger." That's an important tool of self-actualization. If your circle of friends discourages growth in favor lying on the beach (I live in southern California and there are times when there's nothing like the ocean!), then it will be harder for you to accomplish serious goals. We want friends to push us (even if it sometimes makes us crazy!) rather than hold us back.

And we must have a positive attitude. Instead of bemoaning his fate, instead of railing against the unfairness of life, instead of succumbing to bitterness, Erik leads with a smile, with optimism and with faith.

"…when I'm climbing some hard rock 1,000 feet up, I'm not thinking, 'If I could see that hold up there, life would be so much easier.' I just think, Thank God I'm up here."

Erik Weihenmeyer's life is a lesson in determination. Hour by hour, minute upon minute of single-minded focus and devotion. If he could harness all that power for climbing a mountain, how much more could we access to serve the Almighty?

Weihenmeyer's secret is to believe in himself and his potential while recognizing appropriate limitations. If we believe in ourselves and our potential, the possibilities are endless. And if we ask the Almighty to help us, we expand the boundaries exponentially.

The Jewish secret is that you don't have to do it alone. If you climb your personal Mount Everest and ask the Almighty to help you, He will carry you up that hill. The Almighty doesn't have to push Himself to give; He's just waiting for the opportunity. This year, ask for His help, ask Him to help you do as much as you can with what you have. Make that commitment to do all you can, and watch the doors open.

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