Derek slid open the door of the Cessna 206. It was a tiny
airplane and you couldn't even stand fully upright in it. He
looked just as nervous as I did, even though he had
parachuted more than four thousand times before and this was
my first jump. I had already done teshuva on the short
flight upwards till our jumping height of three-and-a-half
thousand feet. Now my thoughts were on the dayan who
had permitted me to parachute jump during bein
hazmanim (it should be noted that he has since retracted
his heter on this matter). I wished then that he had
forbade this insanity, for there was no turning back now as
the pilot gave his thumbs up sign -- time for me to jump to
There I was sitting on the floor of the aircraft with my legs
dangling out like a child sits on a log, except the deafening
noise of the engine and the ferocious wind stinging my face
along with the most terrifying drop below me left me feeling
far from serene. Instead of an El Al steward saying,
"Cafeh, teh, bevakashah," as on the flight to Israel,
all I heard was Derek utter those fateful words: "All right
Doniel you're next!"
I had just seen another young man dive out the plane about
five seconds before and I was wondering if his parachute had
opened! Derek shouted at me something like, "Wake up, Doniel.
Remember your training . . . " but I literally froze in fear.
Derek grabbed my wrist and placed it on the wall and then
placed my other hand on the aircraft floor.
I was now "ready" for the jump! I said I'll do a countdown:
"Thrrrree . . . tttwo . . . (probably the slowest time I had
ever counted down) one!!!!!!"
To this day I have no idea if I jumped or Derek pushed me
What followed were the most confusing five seconds of my
life. I was supposed to be counting to five while arcing my
body backwards, but sheer fear left me totally out of
control. There must have been a strong jerk as the canopy
opened but I don't remember it.
"Three thousand, four thousand -- check canopy!"
I looked up and saw the colorful parachute canopy perfectly
opened above my head. "Boruch Hashem!" I yelled.
But it wasn't over yet, I still had four minutes to dangle
through the air and I had to make sure that I landed
correctly. I was told that if I landed suspended on a
telephone pole I would be in the newspaper! The noise of the
plane's engine soon faded into the distance and as I floated
down there was total silence.
Then a voice crackled on the head mounted radio. "Well done,
Daniel. Now open your legs wide so you can show me that you
can hear me.
"Lovely, Doniel. Now right toggle. Ok, left toggle.
I couldn't speak to him, but received instructions from the
headset: how to direct this contraption. They guided me in to
a very bumpy landing, but as an elderly gentleman who was
watching said, "If you walk away from it then it was a good
I was so happy to be on terra firma that I kissed the
ground and banged my legs furiously like a two-year- old in a
"I did it!!" I screamed.
But what did I actually do? When I related my experience to
friends they looked at me in amazement saying, "Weren't you
scared for four whole minutes just hanging there?!"
Well, this brings me to the purpose of this essay. If you
examine the actual deed I can get "credit" for, it really
isn't that much. True I went to the training, but big deal!
Who says that I will actually jump?
And though people wonder in amazement about how I managed to
survive dangling for four minutes, they don't realize that I
was really hanging on for dear life, terrified out of my
wits, longing for an end to the torture!
The only thing I should truly get credit for is the fraction
of the second in which I decided to jump (but even that is
suspect, as Derek might have pushed me). Once I had jumped, I
had no choice but to stay floating for four minutes! However,
people give me credit for the whole thing!
Another example of this phenomenon of achieving much with
just a small action is that there are two ways one can choose
to travel to Israel. One can either walk here, or one can
board an airplane. Besides the obvious advantages of air
travel, there is another profound difference in choosing the
plane. Once he boards the plane, he is almost one hundred
percent sure that he will arrive in Israel, since once the
plane has taken off he cannot get off even if he wants to
(unless he has a parachute of course!).
However if he decides to walk to Israel, then at any point
along the way he may change his mind and decide to return
home. Therefore, in order to ensure his arrival in Israel he
is better off choosing the plane.
This is similar to what the Torah instructs us many times
when it tells us to make a fence for ourselves. For example
the Torah forbids a Nozir to even walk in a vineyard, lest he
may be tempted to pluck a grape that is forbidden to him. If
he never enters the vineyard in the first place, he has
guaranteed himself that he will never pluck forbidden grapes.
So by putting himself in a situation, or keeping away from
others, beforehand he ensures his future success.
I once knew of a yeshiva bochur who was aware that his
loshon was far from the standard that a ben Torah
should have. He managed to solve his problem
When he was with his friends once, and another boy used
unfitting language, he said "Hey guys, come on, we're
yeshiva bochurim now!"
His friends laughed aloud as he of all people should be the
one to rebuke people in this matter. But from that moment on,
he could never utter anything but the purest words in front
of those friends, as he knew how embarrassed he would be if,
after telling his friends off, he himself continued in this
I once told a bochur who was considering one more year
in yeshiva before returning to the U.S. that if he writes a
letter home right now, while his mind is clear, stating to
his parents that he wants to stay one more year, then it will
be much more difficult for him to change his mind when the
yetzer hora cools him off.
It cannot be stressed enough, however, that one must be very
careful using this derech even in ruchniyus. If
a person takes on too much and has no way of retracting his
commitments, then this can destroy him as well. I have
witnessed all too often a ben Torah who overexerts
himself with hasmodoh and then when he finds that he
can no longer maintain that high level, he gets depressed and
convinces himself that he has "burnt out" and neglects his
But when used with chochmoh this technique can be used
to achieve great levels in Torah and yiras Hashem. A
bochur who has instructed a friend to wake him for
shacharis is much more likely to be there than one who
sets an alarm clock -- he can always turn off the alarm on
its first ring! By putting himself in a position whereby he
himself cannot change this, it guarantees his success.
This may be a pshat in the gemora Kiddushin 30b
that states, "If you meet the yetzer hora drag him to
the beis hamedrash." The Tana doesn't say, "Start
learning in the beis hamedrash," because all that is
needed is to go there. Once he finds himself there he is sure
to start learning. The decision to go to the beis
hamedrash will give him the credit of beating the
yetzer hora, and it is that decision alone that is the
key to success.
This may also explain another famous gemora in
Kesuvos 62b where it is related that Rachel the wife
of Rabbi Akiva said to Rabbi Akiva (who was then an am
ho'oretz), "If I marry you, will you go to the beis
Interestingly, she just demanded that he go there. She did
not say that he must stay there for twenty-four years! This
may be because she knew that all that was needed was that he
go there. Once there he would automatically grow to fill his
potential. This understanding of hers is backed up by the
Tosafos Kesuvos 63a (Adaata) which states, "It
can be expected that anyone who travels from home in order to
learn Torah will become an odom godol."