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A number of years ago this week, I had the pleasure of joining my older brother and sister-in-law, Rabbi Yitzie and Racheli Staum, in Chesterfield, Missouri at the bar mitzvah of their son, our nephew, Avrohom Yosef.

On Friday night Avrohom Yosef’s Uncle Amitai (Bin-Nun) related that eight years earlier he had taken Avrohom Yosef and some of his siblings on their first visit to the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, on the Mississippi River.


The Gateway Arch is a landmark, and an architectural wonder, rising 630 feet in the air. It is a tribute to the city’s role in the United State’s westward expansion and the Lewis and Clark expedition which ended there in the early 1800s.

Getting to the top in a constricted tram is an experience not for the claustrophobic. But from the top one is afforded a magnificent 30 mile view in every direction, including the entire St. Louis on one side and into Illinois on the other side.

When they arrived at the top of the arch, Avrohom Yosef was peering deeply for a few minutes. He was lost in thought and was obviously looking for something he could not find. Finally after about five minutes he looked up at his uncle with a look of epiphany. “Uncle Amitai, I just realized that I can’t see the Gateway Arch because I’m on the top of it!” Until that moment he had not been able to figure out why if he was able to see the entire city from up there he couldn’t see the city’s most famous landmark.

Each year as Rosh Hashana approaches many people find themselves despairingly thinking that this will yet be another year of failed growth. “I am exactly who I was last year and the year before that, and I can never change.” But in reality, that attitude is hardly ever true.

The gemara in Kiddushin relates that Rav Yochanan would respectfully rise in the presence of any elderly person – even an Armenian. He would explain that by mere virtue of the fact that someone has lived in this world for many years he is worthy of respect. Merely living in this world changes a person. Life experiences and events demand maturity and the need to grow. Add to that a person who is conscientious of his shortcomings and sets goals for himself to improve and grow. It is impossible that such a person has not spiritually grown and matured as time passes.

It is always challenging to assess our own growth. Our evil inclination within us minimizes our accomplishments and highlights our deficiencies, making us feel woefully inadequate and like failures. The fact is that one cannot see the arch he has built when he is standing at the top.

There is no question that we all have a ways to go and there is far more we can accomplish. True living is about growing and improving. But in order to have the courage and fortitude to continue that ascent it is vital that we take a step back to realize and appreciate how much we have built and grown until now.


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Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author as well as a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ. He has recently begun seeing clients in private practice as part of the Rockland CBT group. For appointments and speaking engagements, contact 914-295-0115 or [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at