Parshas Nitzavim
Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20

Mountain Shabbos ©
Traveling the Path to the High Holy Days

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Gary Lee Belk and Mr. Donald Wayne Belk, may they rest in peace.

In today's parsha we are preparing to travel into the much awaited Promised Land of Canaan. We have been camping out as a way of life for almost forty years. Now it is time to move into our new home and settle down. This is especially meaningful to my family and me as we have just moved and are making every attempt to settle in before the High Holidays. I say all of this because JewishPath now resides in the area of the following story. At the time this story happened and later when it was written I had no idea that we would be residing there. This is truly the place for the wandering Jew to settle...

Mountain Shabbos
Camping is one of the fun things families can enjoy together. One summer our family had the opportunity to share a weekend camping in the Colorado mountains. We left Denver on Thursday afternoon. This adventure was to an area above Georgetown.

While traveling to our destination we exited Interstate 70 at Georgetown. Then we wandered through this century old mining town until we came to the foot of the mountain where Guanella Pass connects Interstate 70 with Highway 285. It a dirt road.

Shortly after we were driving on Guanella Pass Road we came upon a tragic scene. A motor home had lost control at a hairpin curve exiting the dirt road at about forty miles per hour. It landed in some trees on the side of a very steep cliff. The police were already on the scene. A massive crane was also present trying to remove the huge vehicle down below. Yellow crime tape marked the area. There was little we could do other than to offer prayer for the survivors. We traveled on appreciating how precious life is...

On our way up the mountain we did not visit Georgetown or Idaho Springs. Our plan was to visit on our return to Denver, Sunday. Thursday evening was designed to find a proper campsite, gather wood, enjoy a campfire and to tell stories. Friday was set aside for relaxing and in Shabbos preparation. It rained throughout most of the day on Friday. Still we gathered more wood for our pre-Erev campfire. We would build a large fire before Shabbos began, then after evening prayers, Kiddush and supper sit around the campfire. We would sit up quite late since we couldn't put the fire out. It had to go out on its own. Yet it was a very enjoyable evening.

During the late afternoon my youngest son and I were practicing several Shabbos niggunim at our campsite table when a young girl chased a chipmunk into our site. I thought, Why did that little girl do that? It really puzzled me... A little later she returned. She walked right up to our table and proudly announced, "I'm Jewish." She said, "I heard you singing several Shabbos songs."

I asked her, "What is your name?"

She said, "Sarah."

"How old are you, Sarah?"

She responded, "Six."

We talked for a few minutes when her distraught grandmother appeared. Needless to say, Grandma was not too happy to find Sarah talking with strangers. In a very nice way I agreed with Sarah's bubbie and invited the entire family for Erev Shabbos. Later Sarah's father stopped by to affirm. That evening we enjoyed Shabbos with our guests at our mountain table around the campfire. We shared Torah, sang, laughed and had a very pleasant evening.

Why do these things happen? I don't know! Only the Creator does.

In this week's parsha two areas caught my attention.

The first area is that we have the opportunity every second of every day to choose between life accompanied by good or to choose death accompanied by evil. Reflecting back on our story about the huge motor home that plunged over the mountainside, we were sad for those that perished.

At the conclusion of our trip we stopped in the city of Georgetown. There we learned of the fate about the tourists from out of state. Behind their huge motor home they pulled a small car. Earlier in the day one of the members needed medical attention. That individual was driven to a Denver hospital leaving the rest of the party at the campsite with the motor home. Later that same day a forest ranger stopped by the campsite. He observed an older lady experiencing mountain sickness, also known as altitude sickness. She was also stressing out over the members who were late on returning from Denver. The ranger suggested that they move to a lower camping area. They descended the mountain with serious concern for their loved ones who had not returned and with concern for the grandmother experiencing altitude sickness. They hit a switchback at an excessive speed. Apparently the eighteen year old driver was inexperienced in operating such a huge motor home. They never made the turn in the road or even slowed down. The motor home went over the side at forty mph.

On the day my family was experiencing life another family was experiencing death. On the day we were enjoying good another family was plunged into death and evil. We were in the same area. We were on the same road. The road led to different events. Actually the Jewish path, the road that one travels everyday for many years, can be a road of life or a road of death. It all depends on how you travel the path. The Jewish path is meant to be experienced! It is not a motor speedway! Our prayers along the path are intended to be expressions of our heartfelt attitudes towards Hashem and not how much distance we can cover in an hour or a day. It is our time of connection to the Holy One. If we are into distance we could miss the curve in the road, G-d forbid!

The Jewish path is now approaching the High Holidays. Jews worldwide are traveling towards Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos. Remember, it is more important to connect with G-d on these days than it is to cover distance. It is more important for one to feel like they have connected with the Holy One than they have been driving for hours!

The second area of this week's parsha that caught my attention relates again to our story. Even in the mountains of Colorado high above the city of Georgetown in an out of the way camping area, G-d brings Jews together. Just as a little six year old girl made her connection to other Jews, to Erev Shabbos and to Shabbos, make your connection to share the High Holidays with other Jews. Even if you're a Jew who has no real serious roots... even if you're a Jew with little or no serious religious values... even if you're a Jew living in Ha Bamidbar, the Wilderness... MAKE THAT CONNECTION...

Because we Jews we are on the same road. Now let's try to connect with each other as Sarah did. Let's walk together in the same direction ... on the Jewish path.

Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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