I raise my eyes to the mountains (Psalm 121)
It is said that late in life, the celebrated rabbi and father of Modern Orthodoxy, Samson Raphael Hirsch, gathered his students and informed them that he was traveling to Switzerland. Astonished that their deeply pious teacher would spend so much time on a seemingly frivolous journey, they asked, “Why?” Rabbi Hirsch laughed, then responded: “Because when I stand before the Holy One, the Creator of the Universe will ask me, ‘So, Samson, did you see my Alps?’”
Like Rabbi Hirsch—and generations before him—many of us find inspiration in the mountains. This week’s Torah portion, Behar, means “on the mountain”; it reminds us that we received the Torah in the wilderness, on a mountaintop.
Why do we so often associate holiness with high places? I love Annie Dillard’s poetic explanation from near the end of her magnificent work of natural theology, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She writes:
Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn and unlock—more than a maple—a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.
What an opportunity we have this coming week—to read our portion, Behar, “on the mountain” in the beautiful Idaho mountains outside McCall at our congregational retreat—accompanied by the music of Nefesh Mountain!
We raise our eyes to the mountains, indeed.