A friend of mine who was a commander in the paratroopers’ unit of the IDF, shared with me the moment he decided that he wanted to become a commander. IDF soldiers endure a long and intense training period that can last from many months to over a year in preparation for the multiple scenarios they may face on the battlefield. For those in a combat role, a long, intense journey, which culminates with earning the brigade's beret, marks the end of training and the beginning of service as IDF fighters.

My friend painted the following scene. “We were on a 100-kilometer hike, hiking in two single file lines, through the night, in full gear, and in complete silence at a very fast pace. After 60 kilometers, you can barely feel your legs, you’re chilled to the bone, exhausted, with an aching back.

“I was ready to give up,” he shared with me, “but suddenly I saw my friend who was having a much harder time. He was falling behind and he wasn’t going to make it. I decided that I’m going to go to the back of the group to help him out.”

He said, “I went and started giving him encouragement, ‘let’s do this.’ As I was giving my friend a push, the most amazing thing happened. I felt that I had more energy to get through the difficult journey and ended up encouraging many of my friends that night. In turn my commander, having noticed the encouragement and strength that I had given others, decided to present me with an honor at the end of the journey. I knew at that moment that I myself would become a commander.”

This ability of my friend, to find inner strength to overcome physical and mental challenges, is taught to us in this week’s Torah portion1 “And Jacob lifted his feet and went to the land of the people of Kedem (the East). What does it mean that he lifted his feet? Why does it not simply say that he got up and walked east?

Rashi, quoting the midrash,2 gives us an explanation, which may serve as a profound lesson for anyone going through a hard time. “As soon as he was given the good tidings that he was assured protection, his heart lifted his feet, and he became fleet-footed.” At this point, Yaakov’s life was turned upside down, and he was facing numerous challenges. He found himself in a situation where he needed to flee home, fearing the wrath of his brother Eisav. Elifaz, his nephew, stripped him of all his physical belongings, and Yaakov was now traveling to his conniving uncle in the attempt to establish a home. He was in a stage of total confusion and uncertainty, with no way to predict what lied ahead. Yet, after Yaakov’s prophetic dream of the angels ascending and descending the ladder, and God's promise that he will protect him, he was energized with a sense of inner strength that rejuvenated his tired body and gave him the power to continue on his mission, to build the Jewish people.

Jewish wisdom teaches us that the body and soul feed off each other. Our mental state is what gives our body strength. When a person is focused on a certain value, spiritual goal or mission, that itself gives him strength. When we recognize that we’re on a mission, we have the strength to get up in the morning, to keep going, despite any obstacles that may arise.

May we find the strength to accomplish all our goals, and continuously rise to the challenge rather than allow the challenge to hinder our path to success.

  1. Bereshit 29,1
  2. Medrash Rabbah 70:8