It’s not difficult to sympathize with the skeptics who questioned the ability of Avrohom Mordechai Altar, then still a teenager, to succeed his father as leader of the Gerrer Chassidim, possibly the most influential Torah community in Poland at the end of the 19th century. But the young scholar, who would grow up to become a great rebbe and author of the Imrei Emes, answered his critics with the following parable.
A small town in an isolated land rested at the foot of a great mountain, a peak so high and steep that all reasonable people considered it unconquerable. From time to time, however, some impetuous youth would set out to climb the mountain. Some of these returned admitting defeat. The rest were never heard from again.
Despite the warnings and prophesies of doom, a certain young man decided to challenge the mountain. Many times he nearly turned back, and many times he nearly met his end, but through sheer persistence he finally reached the mountain top. But he was utterly unprepared for what he found there. A thriving city of people lived upon a great plateau at the mountain¹s summit. There were houses and farms — an entire community living where everyone believed that no one had ever set foot.
The inhabitants of the mountain top laughed when the young man expressed his astonishment. “Do you think you’re the first one to climb the mountain?” they chided. “We also reached the top and, having done so, chose to build this town and make our lives here.”
Not yet recovered from his dismay, the young man noticed a small boy, only six or seven years old. This was more than he could believe. “Did you climb all the way up here, too?” the young man exclaimed.
“No”, replied the boy. “I was born here.”
And so, the young rebbe explained to his followers, he was indeed young. But he had been born into a dynasty of great Torah leaders, raised by and taught by the greatest sages of his generation who had in turn been taught and raised by the greatest sages of their generation. True, he was young; but he had been born on a mountain, and from his place atop the shoulders of the spiritual giants who preceded him he would build upon their greatness. In this way would he succeed as a leader of his people.
And so he did.
This past summer, on the occasion of my oldest son’s bar mitzvah, I remembered this story. In my son’s first thirteen years of life I have done all I could and all I have known how to do to teach him that he was born on the mountain, that he has the accomplishments of generations beneath his feet to support him, and that future generations will depend upon him for their support just as he depends on those who went before.
Whatever my own shortcomings and inadequacies may be, however much I may be frustrated in my own avodas HaShem, in my davening, in my learning, in my chesed, and in my own tikkun haMiddos, my greatest consolation is that I’ve provided my son with an opportunity I never had, to start his own spiritual journey from higher up on the mountain.
This is the prayer I offer every day: That my son, and all my children should climb — that they should climb and always keep climbing.