Dear Readers,

I was recently lecturing in Southern California. In many neighborhoods, majestic mountains surround valleys, providing a scenic backdrop to the cities.

At my home in Pomona, N.Y., I’m also surrounded by stately mountains. From my living-room window, I watch the changing view as the seasons shift, each scene beautiful in its own right. I watch the blossoming mountain with bright summer greenery turn into the deep-hued foliage of fall, only to become white and snow-capped in the cold of winter, and to once again begin budding in the early spring.

Unlike the mountains near my home, though, the Agoura Mountains surrounding the Conejo Valley were brown and desolate, like a desert. I was told that the wildfires that spread through California ravaged the flora and accounts for their desolation. Nevertheless, their bleak austerity was uniquely and exquisitely breathtaking.

The Alter Rebbe explains that conceptually, mountains represent the idea of love. Just as they reach out and upwards from the earth, we, too, express our love for another and G‑d by reaching out and upwards, outside of our limited selves.

Aaron, the High Priest, personified love (“he loved every creation and brought them closer to Torah”). Within the Hebrew name “Aharon” is the word, har, “mountain.” Aaron sought to fan the love between individuals, especially husbands and wives, or those in disputes, and he exhibited unconditional love and compassion for his people. The kohanimthe priests and the descendants of Aaron—perform the services in the Temple and likewise represent limitless love and empathy for the Jewish people.

As I found myself among the Californian mountains, teaching Torah to such receptive individuals, I thought about how each one of us represents a mountain. Despite the gravity of life, we strive to reach higher, to battle the inertia of selfishness and materialism, and ascend to more altruistic heights. And regardless of the many challenges and hardships in our lives, our nation seeks to stand taller, reaching up in greatness, determined to bring more G‑dly ideals into our lives and our world.

At the same time, like each of the captivating mountains, every life story is unique. One person might stand taller, another with his or her exclusive shape. One person has flourishing greenery, while another may appear barren. Some of us may be encountering a season of ice-cold winter, while other times, we may be leading colorful lives.

Through it all, our beauty is expressed in efforts of reaching up and trying our best. Judaism encourages us to express our love for G‑d and our fellow in our own singular ways, as individualistic beings. None of us can compare our circumstances, challenges or growth to anyone else’s.

Interestingly, perhaps some of the most exquisite beauty is found precisely in our barrenness. After being ravaged and feeling so destroyed, we do not succumb to hardship, but courageously reach up and out to G‑d, and to our fellow humans, in love.

Chana Weisberg
Editor, TJW