I spent the last two days in Rustenburg at the South African Rabbinical Association's annual conference. I won't bore you with the details of everything we discussed, dissected and debated, but would like to share an interesting sidebar experience that I shared with a few of the rabbis.
Now this may sound like the start of a poor joke, but there were seven rabbis on a mountain. Well, not quite a mountain...
I guess whoever put together the conference programme figured that rabbis don't get enough excercise and decided to allocate "recreation time" to the itinerary. One of the choices in that slot was to hike the nearby kloof. I joined a group of other rabbis who had temporarily traded in their fedoras for baseball caps, and set off into the compelling serenity of nature.
A hotel employee directed us to the start of the trail and off we went. Only (as we were to discover much later), he hadn't shown us to the correct spot, and the "trail" he had pointed out was no trail at all.
We eagerly set off, quickly disappearing into the bush. We passed a troop of baboons and headed along what appeared to be a rather unused trail. Within ten minutes, the "trail" began to rise steeply and became steadily more difficult yo discern. We very soon found ourselves slipping on loose stones and mud, as we tried to clamber up the steep incline.
Two rabbis turned back.
Soon enough, another joined them. We remaining rabbis had to decide if we would forge on or head home. After all, we would soon be due back for the next conference session.
As I considered heading back to relax between sessions, I figured that if I could make it to the top of Mt Meru or across the endless staricases of the Great Wall, I could surely make it to the Kloof's shimmering waterfall somewhere up ahead. I conferred with the other rabbis and suggested that perhaps we were simply on the wrong side of the river. If we could cross the stream, perhaps we would find the proper path after all.
So, we slip-slid back down, navigated over the rock-strewn water and, sure enough, there was the path. It only took us another fifteen minutes to reach the pristine waterfall. We spent the better part of an hour perched on a huge boulder under the towering crags and circling birds, listening to the cascading water and inhaling tranquility. It was beautiful.
We snapped a few photos so we could show the other rabbis what they had missed and headed back, joking about how this conference had, in fact, highlighted the importance of staying "on the path".
It also illustrated why 90% of people don't achieve their goals. Often, they set off in the wrong direction to start with. When that happens, people commonly retreat, rather than look for an alternative path to reach their destination. Most importantly, people too often give up when the incline gets too challenging. And they miss the true beauty of what can only be found after you have pushed forward, despite your mind telling you to head home.