The idea was Shmuel's. He sent off letters and made phone
calls to all of the friends who had studied with him in
yeshiva in his early days, many years before, suggesting they
have an alumni reunion. He even invited Rabbi Goldberg, who
had been their rosh mesivta in yeshiva, asking him to
address the gathering.
The idea began to take shape and one evening all of them met
in Shmuel's apartment, most of them fellow students from the
good old days. For some of them, it was the first encounter
with friends whom they had not seen for years. The excitement
ran high and the hubbub of enthusiastic conversations and the
exchange of telephone numbers testified to the resurgence of
the emotions of fraternity and friendship from those bygone
days of youth. Even Rabbi Goldberg was among the eager
talkers as he went from group to group, exchanging pleasant
words with everyone and getting an update on how they were
faring, physically and spiritually. Finally, when it seemed
to Shmuel that the tumult was phasing out a bit, he asked
those present to find seats and then invited the rabbi to
"Dear Friends," began the rabbi in a hearty voice. "I find it
difficult to describe the full extent of my joy, and to
express the depth of my feelings when I see you here before
me, hale and happy. Boruch Hashem, you are all
following the path of the Torah, each one in his setting and
stature. Students from many years past do not imagine that
their former rebbe actually carries them in his heart,
always, and prays for their spiritual success every single
day. He is concerned for himself too, for this is what R'
Yochonon taught us, that the master, himself, is dependent
upon the success of his student and is judged accordingly.
The teacher planted those seedlings and nurtured them at the
beginning of their growth. He bore a tremendous
responsibility for the growth of those formative years.
"When a student from past years tells me that he is today
part of a Torah study environment, of Torah study, teaching
or horo'oh, I am filled with nachas. When he
tells me where his children are learning and what
chinuch he is giving them, I feel like a farmer who
plowed and sowed his field, and after months of waiting,
stands and views the land in which he invested so much toil
at the planting season, and now sees it filled with golden
sheaves of grain, bursting with fullness, high as a man's
shoulder. Praised be Hashem for meriting this!
"I once had the opportunity to hear an everyday conversation
that dealt with the nighttime robbery of a gas station.
Throughout the long night, the station is serviced by a
single person who holds all the cash. This tempts robbers to
hold up the station in the small hours of the night and seize
the whole day's takings by force from the only person manning
"A solution was found to this problem, they said. Easy and
simple. The worker who received payment for filling up his
customer's tank would have to insert the money into an
opening in the pipe which led to a safe buried underground,
beneath layers of concrete. There was no way an outsider
could possibly get to the safe to break it open. Thus, the
income was kept safe for the owners, who would come every
morning to open the safe with the appropriate keys.
"When I heard the details of this story, I began thinking:
Can this information, this scenario, help us in any way in
our avodas Hashem? Is it coming to hint to us
something which we hadn't noticed before?
"Indeed, there may be a certain message for us. At the
beginning of this reunion, I talked with you, dear friends,
and heard about your lives, about your daily schedules.
Everything seems fine and good on the surface. My good Jews
pray three times daily in a synagogue, recite the blessings
before eating, keep Shabbos properly and duly sanctify it.
Each of you also opens up a sefer and studies, some
more, some less. All this should cause me a sense of
satisfaction, for this is how a good Jew should conduct his
life. May I wish such a life for each and every Jew! There is
all the reason for such a person to pat himself on the
shoulder and declare: How fine a man I am! I am living a life
that fulfills Hashem's requirements.
"But I come here to draw a comparison between the present and
the past of some of you here whom I got to know through heart-
to-heart talks when you studied in yeshiva. I remember the
tremendous efforts of select students to elevate themselves
beyond a mediocre achievement, beyond treading water and
keeping pace at an even keel but, rather, striving upward
more and more. I remember aspirations that throbbed
vigorously in your hearts as young men who established high
goals for themselves in Torah and Mussar. You saw
yourselves as maintaining the same momentum, the same pace of
acceleration and ascent in the years to come, in an unceasing
upward spiral, reaching the great heights which exemplified
our great sages and forefathers.
"Then they took it for granted never to remain stagnant or
stationery in the spiritual sense, year after year, without
progressing, ascending, and, G-d forbid, to end their lives
on the same spiritual level which they had reached at the age
of fifteen. I remember students who told me in personal talks
that they had resolved to work on a particular area, or
achieve some prodigious accomplishment, some great effort
beyond the norm, in order to ascend the Mountain of Hashem,
to become exalted, both in qualitative and quantitative Torah
study, be it in a special Mussar area of character
improvement, in reining in negative natural tendencies and
developing positive traits to their fullest or in many other
things involving self improvement that lend a true Jewish
flavor of constant striving and achievement.
"Alas, to my regret, I meet that selfsame person with the
once-noble aspirations as an adult, and I ask him
incidentally: `What about that marvelous program of yours
that you once devised for yourself?' And he blushes a bit,
smiles somewhat apologetically, and explains that it is much
easier said than done. There are many obstacles and
hardships, he says, beginning with supporting his family and
caring for it. And so, all of the dreams and striving were
shifted aside for the meanwhile, perhaps until the children
are married off, or until he retires, or enters an old age
home . . .
"I see some of you smiling. Apparently, the scenario is a
familiar one. If we search our memories, we will all probably
dredge up some grandiose plan for spiritual growth and
greatness, which may likely have, in its time, been well
formulated and broken down to technical details of practical
implementation. You may even have begun carrying out its
beginning stages. But... the Soton does not twiddle his
thumbs. He devises all kinds of stumbling blocks and
sidetracks to possibly stall and thwart you, to stop you,
postpone your progress and to bring you to the conclusion
that, for the meanwhile, this program is not feasible.
Perhaps next week... or after yom tov... Or, `We'll
just get over with moving to the new flat' and so on.
"Later, when a person remembers those plans, they seem to him
like a distant dream — not at all realistic. And that's
how the thieves in the night come upon us, be they through
the inertia of routine, laziness, bad habits and even plain
old forgetfulness. These empty out our cash boxes, undermine
the foundations which we've built and nip in the bud all
those admirable attempts to rise above mediocrity and shake
ourselves off from a lackluster lethargy of routine that just
runs itself on and on without renewal and rejuvenation.
"In Tehillim we say: `Who shall ascend the mountain of
Hashem?' It is no easy feat to climb that mountain. One must
lift oneself above the plateau of creature comforts and
generate momentum to combat inertia, to pick oneself up by
one's bootstraps, to surmount one's materialism and progress
upward, up the mountain, ever closer to the sanctuary of
Hashem on the mountain peak.
"And if one has already begun the ascent and risen up
somewhat, there is still the challenge of, `Who shall
maintain the position' on that upward slope, whose gain was
earned with so much effort? It is only too natural to slide
back down to your starting point. For you have not yet
discovered that burglar-proof safe that will automatically
guarantee to preserve your gains. Just maintaining what you
have achieved with such hard work requires an additional
input of effort, else the loss is inevitable.
"And so we get to the main theme. A person comes to build one
tier upon another that was already built in the past. But the
previous one has disintegrated, dissolved, and no longer
exists. There is nothing upon which to build! `Who shall
persevere?' What will guarantee that I will be able tomorrow
to build upon what I achieved today, and that the day after I
will be able to add another row upon the two below? Thieves
of the night make it their business to see that we will
always be busy building and rebuilding the first row. Who
thinks at all about the second or third floor when the first
tiers of the first floor simply disappear after one dark
"And so, at the age of forty or sixty, a lackluster, grayish,
mediocre person reminds himself how once there beat in his
youthful heart the most sublime aspirations of building a
tower reaching the heavens.
"My dear friends! Fortunate are you that a long path of life
still stretches before you and that you can navigate it with
forethought, planning, with a firm hand upon the steering
wheel, anticipating the future and clearly visualizing every
portion of the road ahead as leading to the final goal.
"Ascend! And be uplifted!"