There are some lessons you learn the hard way, and they are never forgotten.
In Infantry Officer’s training there is an obstacle course known as the “A’son Teva” (Freak of Nature). It is an appropriate name for this visit to hell. No cadet can graduate Officer’s course without completing this test. We were made to do a number of dry runs before the actual test day, but being dry had nothing to do with it. In full uniform and gear, at one point you have to wade through an ice-cold river that gets up to your chest. When you wade out, the first thing that hits you is an 18 foot rope you have to climb.
Soaked from the river, with all the extra weight of the water in your gear and on your drenched fatigues, not to mention the psychological pressure of commanders screaming at you, that rope for me was just an insurmountable mountain. You only have so much time to finish the entire course, which means you only have a little less than a minute to get up that rope, or you don’t make the grade, and have to do the entire course over again.
I never thought I would ever make it up that rope. But there was an officer who was responsible for running us through the drill and teaching us the finer arts of the course, who was there with us on the final day when the test would count. He was a short little guy, who wore the beret of the paratroopers, and throughout the training I had wondered how he had made it through paratrooper training; he couldn’t have been more than five feet tall.
Just before we began the run, he walked over to me, seeing the tension on my face, and said, with a big grin: “Im Tirtzu, Ein Zo’ Aggadah” (“If you want it enough, it’s not just a dream”).
This was Theodore Herzl’s famous response to all those who ridiculed his determined devotion to what they considered a fairy tale dream: building a Jewish state in the land of Israel.
And I got it; you don’t climb ropes with muscle, you climb them with willpower.