| Impressions |

Close Encounters: Five Places   

  When I want to improve my kavanah in prayers, I think of the times and places where I experienced an elevation of spirit

1: Struck by the Sea

The first time I sensed transcendence was on a ship.

When I was a boy, about 11 or 12 years old, my parents took us on a trip on the open sea. The ship was called the Bluenose, and it was a great big ship, so big that it could hold many people along with their cars and ferry them across the sea from the mainland to a peninsula far away, a province of Canada. The trip was so long that there was no land at all visible for many hours, only sea everywhere you looked.

It was a warm, overcast, summer day with very strong winds and great, high waves. A tropical storm had passed by, and we were in the wake of the storm.

I’d always loved the water, and in spite of the threatening weather, decided to go up on deck. I went right out to the bow of the ship and took hold with both hands of the thick, gray iron walls that came to a point at the very front of the ship. When the ship would ascend a wave, I felt the great force from beneath the soles of my feet. And when the ship would descend the wave, I felt as if I were floating down, almost weightless. The waves would strike the bow from different angles, quite often sending up a delightful, salty spray.

I felt a sense of awe. The sea was so much bigger and more powerful than this big ship. And while the water around us seemed to go on forever, I knew the ocean was so much larger than what we would see that day.

Look at a map that charts the measurements of the depth of the sea; it boggles the mind to imagine how much water there is. And this great earth is so huge — the water that covers most of it actually makes up a very small part of the planet. And Planet Earth is only one small planet in a vast solar system. Some of Jupiter’s “little” moons are as big as the Earth. And the sun, which dwarfs Jupiter, is itself one of billions of stars in the galaxy, and the galaxy is one of so many in the universe.

The experience stayed with me. Later in life, I learned how important it is to harness the awe we can feel in nature to bring us back to our Source, and now I use that memory of the Bluenose to connect to G-d in prayer. I close my eyes and see the gray clouds in the sky and the fog embracing the ship. I feel the spray on my face and feel the ship rising and falling with the huge, relentless waves. I remind myself that Hashem was there keeping the ship afloat. He is the One who is in charge. And not only is He running the universe, He creates it. Every molecule in the vast sea. He is constantly bringing it all into existence…

The mind is confounded by the vastness of G-d.

2: Divine Design

IT was a few years later, and I believe I was 17 years old, when I found myself on a chairlift at the Sterling Forest ski hill in New Jersey. It was frigid, but what seized my attention was the beauty. Floating above the slopes, I looked at the trees. It was a clear day — blue skies and no clouds at all, but the temperatures were as cold as it gets. The bright sun shone through the trees’ leafless branches, and it suddenly occurred to me that this world was too beautiful to be the result of random — random what I don’t know; you can’t call it design because by definition random means chaotic, without purpose.

Semantics aside, on that day I decided that what I’d been taught in public school was clearly wrong and that this would be patently obvious to anyone who would allow his mind to pursue logical conclusions. I sensed the design of G-d’s creation.

3: Connection at the Wall

Two years later I found myself at the Kosel. I closed my eyes and my imagination went wild. I saw myself as tremendously tall, towering over the people praying around me.

I felt connected to thousands of years of Jewish history.

There I felt Hashem’s Imminence.

4: Between Heaven and Earth

A few years later, when I was 20 years old, summertime found me touring Washington State, climbing Mt. Rainier. At 14,400 feet high, Mt. Rainier is the highest singular peak in the 48 connected states. On a clear day, you can see it from Seattle, 90 miles away. It looks as though it’s sitting in the heavens.

My friend and I were halfway up the mountain, below the glacier, when we stopped for lunch. “I feel somehow closer to G-d up here,” I said to him.

“I don’t like to talk about such things,” he answered. I wondered why not, and that question has stayed with me until today.

On Rainier, I felt Hashem’s Majesty.

5 Alone with My Creator

The next encounter of the G-dly kind I would share with you was when I was not quite 54. I was staying alone at a motel not far from Chesapeake Bay, there to visit a very unwell relative in a hospital nearby. I woke up very early and tried to daven Shacharis in the motel lobby — there was no minyan anywhere nearby — but I was too distracted.

So, instead, I got into my rental car and drove to a nearby resort hotel. I saw a pier extending into the Bay, with tables and chairs situated at its end. I walked out to the end, a distance of about 200 feet, and put on my tefillin for the second time that morning.

I turned to the east, where the sun had risen above the horizon. The wind was blowing hard, I think from the west, wrapping my tallis around my body. Many, many birds were flying around and making a lot of noise. I raised up my voice in prayer and the tefillah seemed to take on a life of its own as I sang. There was no one around and I was totally uninhibited, pronouncing everything slowly and loudly. I savored every word. The beauty of the setting, the time of day, and my mission to see my loved one brought copious tears to my eyes, which flowed down my face as I bared my soul to G-d.

I felt Hashem’s closeness.


Now, when I want to improve my kavanah in prayers, I think of the times and places where I experienced an elevation of spirit. And when I bring my mind back to these five places, or even just one of them, I can look forward to reaching even higher.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 934)

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