What Mountain Climbers and Individuals with Special Needs Have in Common
In the “olden days,” it was standard practice for a person to review his Torah studies 100 times. (Try telling that to the kids when they complain about studying for tests!) If a person reviewed his studies 101 times, he was deemed someone who went above and beyond the expected and the 101st time the material was reviewed was considered greater than all of the previous 100 times put together.
Why? Why would learning something one more time after you already studied it 100 times help at all? We can answer that question with an example of a donkey.
Donkeys Going the Extra Mile
The Talmud explains this with an analogy of donkey drivers. In Talmudic times, the drivers used to charge one coin (a “zuz”) for traveling 10 miles. If they were asked to travel 11 miles, they charged an additional zuz for that one extra mile. One zuz for 10 miles and two zuz for 11 miles would seem to be a disproportionate increase. However, that “extra mile” exceeded the donkey drivers’ customary practice and was, in essence, equivalent to all of the preceding miles.
That which requires effort, the “one extra” that calls for an inner struggle, is what it’s all about. The little extra that we do to go above and beyond can be worth as much as everything else we did up until then.
This brings up the classic debate of effort versus performance.
The Mountain Climber
There was once a man who decided he was going to climb a large mountain. He prepared, he toiled, he climbed the treacherous terrain. It took him many days, but finally he got to the top of the mountain. When he got there, he was all proud of himself and his marvelous achievement.
As he was taking in the breathtaking view, he saw a little boy on the top of the mountain and he was stunned. He said, “How did you get up here?” And the boy said, “Get up here? I was born here.”
Focus on the Effort
There are those who are born in a position where they have the resources; the opportunities and the talents and with a regular amount of effort they can perform very well.
But we don’t look at performance, we look at the struggle. It says in Ethics of the Fathers, “Be humble before every person.” This begs the question: How could you be humble before everyone? Surely, there are people whose behaviors are inferior to yours.
This is an important lesson that we can learn from an individual with special needs. Don’t compare yourself to their performance. Compare yourself to the intensity of their struggle. The idea is to be humbled before the child with special needs. Be humbled before the intensity of their struggle. Ask yourself: How hard do you work at your own personal development?
Floating Down the River of Life
We all have things that we’re trying to be better at — be better in our marriage, at work, in our community. There are character traits that we’re trying to refine, we are trying to become just a little bit better of a person than we were yesterday.
So, do we just let nature take its course? Do we stay content with the personality that we have and float down the river of life? You might grow up; you might mature some with the years, but there’s no real proactive effort. There is no deliberate effort to become someone better than you naturally are.
We need to look at the efforts of the child with special needs and ask ourselves how much effort do we put into accomplishing the next milestone. Look at the effort a child with special needs puts into learning to talk, tie their shoes or to read. Think about their struggle and how the child (and parent) cherish the memory of reaching the milestone all because of the effort involved.
We then need to ask ourselves: Are we having breakthroughs? Are we striving for our milestones? Or, are we just cruising through life because we can get away with it?
We all need to have effort!