When I Climbed Masada by Ruchi Koval


Ruchi Koval is a JWRP City Leader with the Jewish Family Experience (JFX) in Cleveland, Ohio. 

The Israel experience I just had with 40-some other friends and family was unforgettable. There were many highs and many precious moments.

But I'm going to tell you about a low. The kind of thing I didn't post on Facebook. And that was the climbing of Masada.

The past few times I'd been to Masada we didn't have the option to climb it. Time was short, it was a large group, and we all just rode the cable car up. But this time around, Patrick, our indefatigable tour guide, offered us the option of the climb.

"For sure!" I proclaimed lustily. I work out. I walk. And I take a weekly class at the J. A hard one. I prepped with the right clothing and hydration, joined my fellow jazzed-up cohorts, and began the climb.

Here's what no one told me:

1. I should have used my inhaler first (I have exercise-induced asthma). Except I didn't bring it to Israel.

2. Walking every day is NOT called working out. It's good for you, but it's not taxing.

3. I MODIFY the class at the J but you can't modify Masada.

I made it to the top – a half hour after everyone else, feeling like a loser. I cracked jokes about the experience, but the truth is, it stung.

All my lessons I've taught in mussar about being on our own journey, not comparing yourself to others, looking at how far you've come instead of how much is left to go – out the window. The struggle was real. Every time I looked to the top to see how far that infernal cable car station was, it seemed to move further away. (I tried telling our guide, Ohr, that it was a mirage but explaining the word "mirage" in Hebrew proved too complicated. Especially while I was huffing and puffing.) My daughter Yitty kept me company which was sweet – and made me feel a tad elderly.

When I got home I decided that I needed to exercise more. To reach physical exertion more regularly. To make sure I didn't huff and puff when something taxing was requested of me. But it was fueled by negative emotions. By envy. And shame. And pride.

Can positive change come about via negative emotions? This is a question I discuss regularly in my classes. I believe the answer is: yes, but the BEST positivity and constructive change will arise when emotions and motivations are positive. Nevertheless, if I can use my Masada debacle as an entry point to understand others better, it will have not been in vain.

As we enter the new year full of good resolutions, here's wishing us all positive change, positive energy and positive growth – and remember. YOU CAN'T MODIFY MASADA. Don't say you weren't warned.

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