In 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous Moon Speech.
"But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." ~JFK
With this speech, President Kennedy urged the American public to avoid the mediocre, attempt to achieve difficult goals, and inspired a nation to aspire to greater things.
Seemingly impossible goals may not be pleasant or simple to achieve. We avoid them because we are afraid of failure and unsure of our abilities; we prefer to stay in our comfort zones, living an ordinary life, safe from failure. Yet, as Michael Berg points out, "A righteous person is somebody who pushes himself to do the spiritual work when it’s uncomfortable."
In the Book of Samuel, King Saul gears up for a battle the following day. Knowing he has done negative things in the past, he feels unsure of his fate and he seeks out spiritual guidance. The spirit of Samuel appears to him and informs Saul that he and his children will die the next day in battle. This is upsetting information to receive, however, Samuel offers him a consolation. Samuel tells Saul that if he runs away from the battle he will survive and won’t die. But if he goes to battle knowing that he will die, he and his children will be able to join Samuel in the afterlife. In the end, Saul goes to battle with his sons at his side and all three are slain.
Faced with the same dilemma, how many of us would choose to do the hard thing?
Kabbalists teach that how we respond to the challenges we face is our spiritual work. "Without challenges, life isn’t really life," says Karen Berg. "Everybody goes through challenges. The greater the challenges, the more we progress spiritually and the greater our responsibility becomes."
As children we do difficult things all the time. We learn to walk, speak a new language fluently, read, write, and tie our shoes—all enormous feats for our still developing brains and motor skills. Yet, as adults our first impulse is to turn away from the hard things in life and take the easy road. In our youth we are taught to be careful. So we look both ways before crossing the street, avoid touching a hot oven, and never run with scissors. We learn to be safe. But sometimes this translates into playing it safe with life choices. As a result, we unconsciously avoid pain and failure in our lives. We stop doing hard things. But it’s the hard things that make life more fulfilling. The hard things help us grow and become stronger.
The spiritual work before us is to break out of the "safe" zone and open up to doing the hard things in life. This is our goal because it’s the challenging things that separate those who excel in life and those who live in the mediocre. This is how we grow spiritually; it’s how we make our lives and the world around us better.