A three-year-old child asks his father, “Daddy, can you reach the ceiling?” His father smiles and says “Yes.” With a light jump, he touches the ceiling. The next question rolls right out of this child’s mouth and is completely untethered to the laws of physics: “Can you jump over our house, Daddy?”
This child will ask literally thousands of curious questions over the course of his or her growth and maturation. Children are born with curiosity, but without the restraints of reality. As far as they are concerned, the ceiling might as well be 30 feet off the ground. The innocence, the simplicity, of a child’s perception is just beautiful.
It is there, at the crossroads of our children’s curiosity and universal reality, that we have to be conscientious of the blessings and opportunities in these small moments. In answering the questions of our children, we have to make sure they understand the realities of life without clipping their wings to think big. In each of those inquisitive moments between parents and children, we as parents have been handed a gift, an educational opportunity to help our children reach for the stars. We have the opportunity to set the bar as high as can be imagined.
To be clear, setting the bar high is not a new-age fad. Setting the bar high was a value set in motion when we human beings were charged with the amazing opportunity to keep Hashem’s Torah. In fact, the Talmud relates a teaching of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, a Rabbi and leader around the year 150 CE in the city of Lydda, modern-day Lod, Israel. In addition to his Torah sagacity, he was known for his piety, tremendous love and care for other people, and even for performing miracles. In particular, he is well known for authoring a brief list of how one can reach the loftiest of levels, even to the point of Ruach HaKodesh, one of the levels of prophecy. The Talmud lists all of the levels Rabbi Pinchas mentions in a very particular and scaffolded order. His tradition, going back to the very nature and fabric of the Torah itself, is that the bar should be set very, very high. Beginning with the study of Torah, as no edifice stands without Torah as its foundation, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair unveils the articulating ladder of growth, including reaching levels of piety, humility, purity, restraint and even Ruach HaKodesh.
This might explain why the Ramchal looked no further than Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair’s ladder of values when establishing the framework of his remarkable work, the Mesilas Yesharim. Each rung of the ladder is expounded in efficient detail.
The ability to reach great heights is for the taking, for us and for our children. In future articles, we will learn about each rung and the Ramchal’s recommendations as to how we should best approach each aspect of this trajectory of change. In the meantime, set the bar as high as the eye can see. You never you know… you might just reach new heights.
BIO: Rabbi Phil Karesh is a Certified Mohel as well as the Midwest Regional Director of the Orthodox Union’s Community Engagement Department, and partners with communities and Shuls throughout the Midwest Region toward the greater goals of the OU: to engage, strengthen and inspire the greater Jewish community.