My friend, Pinchas Allouche, a rabbi in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a devoted student of Rabbi Steinsaltz, told me the following:
Rabbi Steinsaltz once mentioned to me that many years ago, he took part in a panel on religion in Spain, and he was representing the Jewish faith.
The representatives of each faith had to describe their idea of paradise.
The Christians, Moslems, Hindus all depicted a very materialistic image of paradise (some even included servants and maids, nice homes, good food, etc.).
When Rabbi Steinsaltz’s turn came, he said that the Jewish Paradise is very different.
It is about ‘souls basking in the infinite light of Hashem, and ascending closer and closer to Him with a never-ending thirst and quest to learn and connect to the Almighty…’.
At one point, a participant interrupted Rabbi Steinsaltz and asked: ‘Why would anyone want to become Jewish, if your Paradise is so boring, tedious, and demands so much effort?’
After a short pause, Rabbi Steinsaltz replied: ‘There are two types of satisfactions in the world: most people derive ultimate satisfaction from a good rest, on a good couch, with a good ice-cream or pleasures of that kind.
‘Others derive ultimate satisfaction from climbing mountains.
They climb mountain, and immediately proceed to the next, and the next, and the next… Their satisfaction stems from their continuous climbs, higher and higher, from strength to strength.’
Rabbi Steinsaltz then looked back into the eyes of the questioner and concluded: ‘We Jews are mountain climbers!’”