One Shabbos afternoon during the summer of 2010, in the Staum bungalow at Camp Dora Golding, a four-year-old boy (whose last name happens to be Staum) decided to jump off the top bunk bed. I would imagine he thought he would land comfortably on the floor. Well, land he did, but he was no Clark Kent, and did not very comfortably.
Despite his shrieks of pain, at first it didn’t seem like it was anything more than a bad bruise. But when he still wasn’t moving his hand properly after three days, his parents brought him to the local Emergency Room for x-rays. The prognosis confirmed that he could not fly, and his hand was fractured and needed a cast. When the nurse asked him what color cast he wanted, he answered immediately that he wanted a red cast because (he decided) he was on the red team for color war.
This same child, however, was not too shabby when it came to the pool. He had no problem jumping into the water, coming out, and jumping in again. Why are the results so vastly different when he jumps in the pool from when he jumped off his bed? Because when he jumps in the pool with permission his landing has been wisely and safely planned.
On February 3, 1999, Mario A. Zacchini, the last surviving member of the original generation of human cannonballs died. Zacchini was routinely explosively launched at a speed of 90 m.p.h. from a cannon across a circus tent into a net, usually three times a day.
He often said that ”flying isn’t the hard part; landing in the net is.”
Every year as Rosh Hashana approaches, we accept upon ourselves kabbalos – resolutions for the new year. We have all experienced the frustration of not following through on our goals, and feeling we are right back where we started. But hopefully we have also experienced some modicum of success and self-improvement. Wherein lies the difference?
Often, it’s dependent on whether we think through our ‘landing.’ Our evil inclination is a master of making us feel like our resolutions are inadequate and inefficient. He convinces us to take on too much, and to accept upon ourselves to completely rectify all our character defects in one year, or even in one week! So, we take the plunge from our high horse and end up crashing into the pavement, bruising our self-esteem and further convincing ourselves that we can never change.
The Ba’alei Mussar urge us that our kabbalos must be accepted in moderation. Small steps of self-improvement are tremendous personal victories and should be valued as such. They infuse us with confidence and encourage us to proceed further.
When we jump into safe waters, as soon as we acclimate ourselves, we are free to swim yonder, as far as we can swim before the tide carries us beyond.