We touch on hitbotedut in our book, with the semi-famous lines of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and the fantastic communion with the Divine that’s available in the wilderness.
But what about mourning? In Judaism, our mourning practices are synagogue-centric. We convene minyan, we say Mourner’s Kaddish, we observe Yikzor. As I write this, it’s Yom HaShoah. I searched for stories of Holocaust survivors who found solace and healing in the wilderness, but I did not come across such stories.
And perhaps that’s for the best. Survivor stories aren’t trite tales we can tug on for a delve into justifications for getting outside.
Spring hiking season has begun where we live in Maine. I daven with a window open after a downpour, the smell of petrichor and pine filling my nostrils. For Leah and I, our parents are all still alive, and B”H, will be for some time to come. We miss our grandparents and other loved ones we lost, but there’s few components of our daily davening that involve anything beyond being there for others who are mourning or are memorializing someone.
We’re counting the Omer, on day 13. It’s a period of quasi-mourning, but a hike in the wilderness isn’t one of the activities we generally refrain from during Sefirat HaOmer. It’s not for nothing that from the Exodus from Egypt and beyond the time at the end of the Omer, when we celebrate Shavuos and the receiving of the Torah, these epoch experiences themselves took place in the wilderness.
It is also very common to describe grief as a wilderness, playing on the themes of isolation and exposure.
One of the frequent themes in grief is finding a way back to gratitude after loss. I would argue that wilderness often offers opportunities for that, if you ascribe metaphysical value to a sunrise, a sunset, an ocean wave, a mountain vista, or a line of trees.
We’ve collected some Jewish reading on wilderness that may be appropriate for the day:
Last modified: May 2, 2019