In the winter of 2016, I went with our oldest son, Shalom, to Eretz Yisrael in honor of his bar mitzvah. While there, we had the zechus to meet a few of the Gedolei Yisrael, including Rav Aron Leib Shteinman, zt”l. It wasn’t easy even getting into Rav Shteinman’s home, as we had to be pulled through the crowds waiting by his door. When Rav Shteinman finally emerged from his room, we had a few precious moments to receive a bracha from the aged gadol hador.
Our connection there told Rav Shteinman that Shalom had just become a bar mitzvah and wanted a bracha for a “chayshek in lernen” (desire/excitement to learn Torah). Rav Steinman replied, “He should have a chayshek, but the yetzer hara won’t allow it so easily.” Rav Landau responded that the Rav should then give Shalom a bracha that he should conquer his yetzer hara. Rav Shteinman countered, “Ubber der yezter hara hut ah shverd” – But the yetzer hara has a sword. Rav Landau answered that the Rosh Yeshiva should then give Shalom a bracha that he should be able to take away the yetzer hara’s sword. Rav Shteinman smiled and replied, “Vet zayn gut” – It should all be good.
Later during that week, we went to visit the home of the late “hidden tzaddik,” Rav Zundel Kroizer, zt”l. I was told that I could purchase his seforim at the home of his son and daughter-in-law, where the Rav had lived during his last years.
After being informed of the address, we made our way to the simple home. With siyata d’Shmaya we arrived there just as Rav Kroizer’s daughter-in-law came home. After she brought out some seforim for me to purchase, I told her that we had come to Eretz Yisrael for Shalom’s bar mitzvah. She then proceeded to give him a warm and beautiful bracha that he grow in Torah, yiras Shamayim, etc. She concluded that he should be “kovesh es rucho u’moshel b’yetzro” – conquer his spirit and dominate his inclination, in a perfect quote of the vernacular of the Mishna (Avos 4:1).
We are now in graduation season – replete with caps, gowns, smiling graduates, teary-eyed camera/phone-wielding parents, and long-winded commencement speeches. Ivy League colleges often invite successful and famous personalities to address their graduates and relate some of the life lessons they learned along their road to accomplishment and achievement. Invariably the talks include reflection about some major struggles and failures that the now celebrity faced early on in their career. They then tell the graduates that they must expect setbacks and challenges in life, for in the struggle lies the path to greatness.
A few years ago, our shul honored one of our worthy members, Mrs. Sandy Friedbaum. In her speech, Mrs. Friedbaum related that it is well known that Hashem gave the Torah to us on Har Sinai, because Sinai was “the humblest of the mountains.” She then added another personal lesson that she had gleaned from the fact that Hashem gave us the Torah on the humblest mountain: Living entails aspiration for growth and great effort to get there. But sometimes we strive to accomplish too much in too little time, and thereby set ourselves up for frustration and failure. Success in life and growth occur when we set ourselves attainable goals that allow us to feel accomplished. We always have to be striving to climb our personal Har Sinai – a climb to the peak which is not too overwhelming and daunting to the top. Then, when we arrive at the peak of our Har Sinai, we can begin the climb up the next Har Sinai.
Our yetzer hara has a sword, but as long as we are ready for the struggle and aren’t overly intimidated by the uphill climb, we can triumph. On Shavuos we celebrate our connection to Torah – the ultimate spiritual climbing guide.