No one knew what to do. The homeless man had charged straight through the lobby of a major office building in New York City, immune to the protests and questions of the well-dressed staff and security guards. “Excuse me, you can’t go in there,” protested the secretary, but to no avail. He stomped right past her, entered the elevator, and rode straight up to the penthouse, where he met the CEO’s private secretary. “Do you have an appointment? You can’t just barge in here like that,” she said with a distinct edge of alarm. But before she could finish her sentence, he stomped past her as well. Bursting into the CEO’s office, the homeless man sat down opposite the CEO, put his feet up on the desk, and smiled. “Hi Dad,” he said. “How are you doing?”
“Son, I’ve told you a thousand times, you are not welcome here. You are an embarrassment and a disgrace. Look at yourself! When was the last time you showered; when was the last time you ate a meal? All you do is hurt yourself and waste away your life. I gave you every opportunity in life, I opened every door for you, and gave you everything you could possibly want. But you’ve thrown it all away, and now look at you. You are a failure and a disgrace.”
The homeless man nodded, as if he had heard this speech hundreds of times. “You’re one to talk, Dad. You might have made it big in finance, but where were you for your family? Where were you during my childhood when I needed you most? You missed my birthdays, school events, and celebrations. I can’t remember the last time you showed up to anything that wasn’t a business meeting! You’re so caught up in being ‘successful’ that you have no idea what life is actually about. How much of life have you experienced? What has all your money, success, and fame brought you other than stress and worry? I may not have made anything of myself, but at least I know how to enjoy life! At least I know how to live in the now, to enjoy what I’m doing. Can you say the same?”
This argument is rehashed year after year. CEO and homeless son, success and failure. But which is the success, and which is the failure? Some think the CEO is right, while others relate to the son’s emotional plea. Many think they’re both wrong. A few think they’re both right. But maybe they’re both wrong and they’re both right.
A Long Journey
The Torah is not only a guide to living a life of truth within the physical world; it is also the literal blueprint and DNA of this physical world. Our physical world is a projection and emanation of the deep spiritual reality described by the Torah. This is the meaning of the Midrash, “Istakel b’Oraisa u’bara alma – [Hashem] looked into the Torah and used it to create the world” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:1). The physical world is an emanation and expression of Torah, the spiritual root of existence. As such, every single word of Torah is of infinite importance.
The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Teshuva 3:8), in line with this idea, explains that if one rejects a single letter of the Torah, it is as if he has rejected the entire Torah. The Ramban explains in the introduction to his commentary on Bereishis that the entire Torah is one elongated shem Hashem – one interconnected sefer, a single organic entity. Just as a single missing chromosome can affect an entire human being, the same is true for a Sefer Torah. Even a single missing letter renders the entire text pasul (invalid). Every single word and letter in the Torah is absolutely fundamental.
If this is true, the Torah’s detailed description of Klal Yisrael’s journey through the midbar is puzzling. At the very end of Sefer Bamidbar (at the beginning of Parshas Masei), the Torah uses forty-nine pesukim to list, one by one, the various places that the Jewish People passed through along their journey in the midbar. In the majority of these places, nothing of note occurred; the Jewish people simply passed through. Why is it necessary to mention every single place, every single stage of our journey? There are several deep themes related to these encampments, from which we can learn inspiring and profound ideas. While each theme will be developed separately, they also interconnect into a greater whole.
The Importance of Every Step
Although we often focus on the end result, every single step of a process is of critical importance.
If we truly understood the power of this idea, our view of time and potential would forever change. Consider, for example, a single day of your life. Your day begins with infinite spiritual potential with 86,400 seconds to utilize. At the very beginning of every day, you have the ability to learn new ideas, improve your relationships, and achieve any number of accomplishments. After one thousand seconds of your day have passed, whatever you accomplished of that time – of that potential – is real, and the rest is lost. However, the potential for the remaining 85,400 seconds is shaped by how you spent the first thousand seconds. If you spent them well, taking full advantage of your time, sharpening your mind and awareness, and building positive momentum, then you now have access to a higher version of yourself with which to continue building and creating your life. If you thought unempowering thoughts or failed to create a positive trajectory – instead choosing to engage in any number of self-destructive activities – then you have set yourself up for a very difficult journey ahead, perhaps diminishing the quality of potential for the rest of your day (and if taken to the extreme, this limitation of potential may even apply to the rest of your life).
Every thought, word, action, and decision have infinite, cosmic reverberations and repercussions. This may be overwhelming to consider, and it may be unhealthy to continuously fixate upon the severity of each infinitesimal aspect of our lives, but the truth remains nonetheless. We should therefore contemplate this, as this realization will help awaken us to the importance of everything, something truly crucial to recognize. Every single step in our journey creates ripples throughout every aspect of our lives. This is an example of true oneness, and this is the importance of every step. We can now begin to appreciate why the Torah includes every single step of Klal Yisrael’s journey.
Enjoying the Journey
There is a story of a man who wanted to climb a mountain. He calculated that it would take him roughly a month to reach the top, so he bought the supplies, packed the food, and started his climb. About two weeks into his climb, he saw a helicopter in the distance. As the helicopter got closer, the pilot slowed down, lowered his window, and called out, “Are you OK? Where are you heading?”
The man shouted back, “I’m great! I’m climbing this mountain.”
Intrigued, the pilot responded, “Really? How long have you been climbing?”
“About two weeks,” he replied. “I have about another two weeks to go.”
The pilot thought for a second, and had an idea. “Why don’t you hop on board and I’ll fly you to the top. This way you’ll save so much time!”
He smiled, shook his head, and explained, “I don’t want to be on the top, I want to climb to the top.”
Very often, we want to be perfect. We don’t want to learn, we want to know; we don’t want to exercise, we want to be healthy; we don’t want to build our relationships, we want to have deep and intimate connection. But the goal of life is not to be perfect or achieve all your goals instantaneously, because you will never “be” perfect. The goal of life is to become perfect, to endlessly strive for more. You will never arrive at perfection, but you can get closer and closer every day. The goal is not to be on top; it’s to climb a little more every single day. So many people hate the journey of growth because they want nothing more than to be at the destination. The journey of growth is only enjoyable when you learn to enjoy the journey itself. When you fall in love with the process of growth – when you look forward to the daily struggle, to the incremental stages of progress, to each tiny step forward – that is when you find true happiness. In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic and try to understand it on an even deeper level.