Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
My husband and I are on a pilgrimage to Mt. Baker.
Yes, a pilgrimage. There’s nothing else to call it.
From our home 100 miles away, we watch the mountain every day. A glaciated volcano, white giant, heavenly being, silent witness, prophet with a steady message: “I am here.” Or maybe just, “I am.”
On a pilgrimage, one should learn something. Something spiritual.
Up close, Baker seems a different mountain. Not a white slab, but a patchwork of snowfields, rock faces and tundra. Not a glacier at rest, but a constant source of emerald waters, feeding lush alpine meadows, alive with wildflowers, butterflies, and bees.
We have learned something about perception.
Some Kabbalists, such as Adin Steinsaltz, say reality holds an infinite number of worlds. Everyday consciousness touches only a few worlds, but spiritual perception opens onto many. Today at Mt. Baker, this teaching comes alive. With each new discovery, we realize how limited our perception has been. Truly, our world is a patchwork of multiple worlds, knowable from different distances, through different activities, and to different life forms.
We could easily shut our insight down with philosophical patter. It’s a truism: of course, each creature has a view based in the concerns of its life, and limited by the structure of its body! No one could possibly access a view from nowhere. Maybe a Divine Mind, that created every creature in some facet of Its image, could access a view from everywhere. But that is only a theological fantasy, a dream that unattainable insight somehow lies waiting at the edge of consciousness.
We would rather extend the insight with interpersonal yearning. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is only five weeks away. Soon our liturgy will urge us to make peace with ourselves, with others, and with God. Apology, restitution, resolution, restoration, and forgiveness will be sought. These are not easy processes. But perhaps our pilgrimage has added to our toolkit.
Each of us holds some longstanding interpersonal hurts. Most days, they loom like Mt. Baker in the distance. A giant hurt that just stands there and says, “I am.” So solid, so cosmic, it seems to govern our lives. To change our perception, we would have to travel quite a distance.
What if we traveled such a distance, in our imagination? What if we looked for lush meadows hidden in the frozen conflicts? Might we see, in ourselves and in others: emotions, fragile but vibrant; sadness, tinged with hope; ignorance, balanced by a desire to learn? Could these insights bring new possibilities for healing?
What if we could glimpse the private emotional ecosystems of friends and family? Understand how the world looks to them? Recognize that our perceptions have been as limited as theirs? Wouldn’t this be a kind of spiritual perception, opening us to multiple worlds, to realities once hidden from us?
Yes it would. And a pilgrimage, into the heart’s imagination, would cultivate it.
Photo credits: Laura Duhan Kaplan, 2015
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.