Who shall ascend into the mountain of G-d and who shall stand in His holy place? One who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not taken My name in vain and has not sworn deceitfully(Psalms 24:3-4).
I may be wrong, but it seems that everyone at some point in time experiences that pivotal moment, that flash of reality that brings their whole physical being into question and allows a small sliver of spirituality to enter one’s consciousness. The first time it occurs is usually in our youth, although in most cases, we are too emotionally and mentally immature to tune in to what it really means. For me, it was a sudden feeling of panic. Am I really here? I know I exist but who am I? What am I doing here? What is this world? The obscurity and ambiguity of being alive suddenly spun around in my head like a dizzying funnel cloud. Being quite young at the time, it was easier for me to try to escape back into the ‘real world’ and I hoped silently that those feelings would just leave me alone. I was a little child, after all. Children are supposed to play, not philosophize about life.
It wasn’t until quite a few years later that those thoughts surfaced again, but this time they were brought about through an outreach organization whose goal was to bring people back to a Torah lifestyle. We lived in the small town of Stratford in Canada which had a total of 13 Jewish families and only 4 girls near my age…one older and three younger. I was barely a teenager when NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth), which just started to spread out in our area, decided to hold a Shabbaton in the one Stratford Hotel owned by a Jewish family. (Shabbaton literally means ‘sabbatical’, but it has come to be known as a weekend retreat of sorts which espouses all the tenets of Shabbat, including Torah lectures). We were invited to join in and I had a great time. The culmination of the event was the final ritual which filled me with magnetic excitement, the anticipation of the conclusion of Shabbat. We all ran around the hotel shouting ‘It isn’t Havdalah yet, it isn’t Havdalah yet’, laughing and singing for all its worth. When I returned home, anxious to continue my newfound direction, I was quickly headed off at the pass as I tried to wash my hands with a bracha (blessing) before eating bread. I was put it my place and mocked for trying to do what I felt was right. I didn’t have the strength of character to stand up for what I truly believed and instead was intimidated into once again conforming to the status quo.
My spiritual yearnings continued to be barricaded behind a façade which I came to know as my life. As was common amongst my contemporaries, we followed the routines our parents set out for us, and in my case, with almost no Jewish friends, Judaism was my unique identity, but nothing more. I hung out with my friends and acted like any other secular teenager. My assumed goal, once completing school, was creating the ‘million dollar family’; two parents, two kids, a home with a white picket fence and a nice car parked in the driveway.
Instead of learning Torah and other Jewish studies which develop morality and quenches thirsty souls, our minds were filled with Greek Mythology and the literature of ‘great’ authors such as Shakespeare. Were we to believe that “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players”? I resented the implication that we were nothing but puppets conforming to a script that was written by man. Even so, I played along until several years into my marriage, all the while craving the authentic performance, not simply a dress rehearsal for some foreign film. There was nothing to look forward to other than work and having kids, furthering one’s career or planning the next vacation. So many questions were still left unanswered. Where was the depth? Were we to raise our children on the same, empty cardboard existence?
Thank G-d, He is always there guiding us, even without our awareness. While some people may not want to rock their yacht to search for a more profound meaning to life, my raft was already sinking and I needed something to grab on to. HaShem sent me several subtle and some not-so-subtle messages which I tried to heed. Our compassionate Father transmits hints to each one of us in our own individual way. If we choose to ignore the clues and continue on without trying to decipher the meaning in them, we will never reach our potential and will essentially be wasting our time here on Earth.
In order to end the unrelenting, spiraling ascent of the physical rat race, we must descend the mountain of materialism, regain our equilibrium and scale the peaks of holiness. It can only be for our benefit since we were put in this world for a purpose and we owe it to ourselves to find our rightful, divine path. We can’t allow others to hold us back. Even when choosing the proper course, it is a constant uphill battle against the elements, continuously struggling between validation of one’s true, inner self and one’s corporeal manifestation of self. This alone can send a person into a tail spin if we allow it to.
As any seasoned hiker will tell you, one must never scale a mountain too quickly or it may lead to severe altitude sickness. Like the sudden imbalance one may incur while pushing oneself too eagerly up the mountain, we must also take the climb to spiritual heights with a slow and steady pace. It’s important to ensure we are anchored firmly at each level before continuing the climb.
Contrasting with the theatrical monologue of Wm. Shakespeare, Rebbe Nachman, of blessed memory, taught more accurately that “All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to fear at all.” We must proceed with caution but know that if we put all our trust in The Master of the Universe, The Holy One, Blessed be He, King over Heaven and Earth, we will have nothing at all to fear. We can only do this through abiding by all of His Laws, guarding our tongue (no lying, idle talk, gossip or cursing), being united through a genuine love for one another and accepting without a doubt that G-d is the sole source of everything; our blessings and otherwise (emuna). In return for these efforts, may we all merit reaching the summit without ridicule or pain and finally view the beautiful, majestic view on the other side.