“In every coat there should be two pockets. In one pocket should be a piece of paper that reads, ‘For my sake the world was created.’1 In the other, should be a piece of paper that reads, ‘I am only dust and ashes.’2 — Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa

I first discovered this Jewish teaching while an undergraduate student at Tufts University. I was searching for healing after a few tumultuous years and found unexpected comfort in these words. There was something oddly calming about the thought of G‑d creating the whole world just for one person, though I never dwelled on the potential consequences of that phrase. The second piece of paper, equating me to nothing but dust, has always come more easily. I understood the humbling messaging.

But I have never felt truly at ease with the first phrase. What does it mean—the world was created for my sake? And if the world was created for me, then what about everyone else? It would be an incredibly hefty responsibility to take on. If you really want to feel that the world was created for you, then I highly recommend standing atop a dormant volcano and looking out at an active, erupting one, painting the sky a vibrant red. The feeling of seeing clouds below my feet and an exploding mountain in front of me provided the perfect backdrop to grappling with what it means to think, “For my sake the world was created.

That volcano is Volcan de Fuego, part of the La Horqueta volcano complex in Guatemala, where I recently had the opportunity to visit with Chabad Young Professionals (CYP). In early March, accompanied by 30 other Jewish young professionals from all over the United States and Canada, I found myself based out of Chabad of Antigua, Guatemala, for a few days of hiking, relaxation and learning.

Let me briefly introduce myself: My name is Simona Gilman. I work in life-science consulting and have spent my career in the health-care communications field. My Jewish journey is analogous to our hike up the volcano: circuitous, steep and filled with outstretched helping hands. While I grew up in a home where Judaism was valued, I first took the opportunity to engaging more regularly and delve into textual study during my undergraduate years.

I sought out Jewish learning and Shabbat as a source of healing. Eventually, I found it, thanks in large part to Rabbi Tzvi and Rebbetzin Chanie Backman at Tufts. Chanie is a force to be reckoned with, and she endowed me with a deeper understanding and comfort with Jewish learning.

Upon graduation, I joined several classmates for an organized Jewish trip to Estonia and Latvia. It was one of my first experiences really connecting with Jewish communities abroad, and I realized that I loved learning what Jewish life looked like in other environments.

It may sound like a trip to Guatemala almost a decade later would be a bookend to my 20s, but I have to admit, I was nervous. Organized trips are not really in my nature. I am the type of traveler who lingers in museums and opts for a quick “on the go” snack instead of a leisurely meal. Moreover, I was heading into CYP Guatemala solo. Five days in a new country alone would be fine for me, but five days when I would have to make brand-new connections? That’s a different story. It seemed a good opportunity to contemplate being only dust and ashes, and head into the experience with the full intention of being a quiet observer.

It is at this point in the story that my fellow CYP travelers would tell you that quiet observer I was not. Shortly into the trip, someone asked if I was always so intense. I spent the next day or so reflecting on that observation. My understanding of dust and ashes was usually linked to being quiet and reserved. Then came Shabbat, and it was easier to reckon with the intensity.

Shabbat at Chabad of Guatemala is a true celebration of Judaism. Our group of 30 was joined by more than 100 travelers from what felt like the entire country of Guatemala. With few other Jewish spaces, Israeli and American Jewish travelers flocked to the beautiful building and crowded into the Chabad’s enclosed courtyard. The room seemed to overflow with the joy of Shabbat in English, French, and Hebrew, as friends debriefed their week of adventures and new acquaintances swapped tips on climbing Acatenango.

Conversation flowed easily between travel stories and reflection on Jewish life. We finished the night by delving into how each of us has grown to observe Judaism in our daily lives when we are not in a Shabbat-and-kosher-friendly environment. I noted that one of my favorite ways to celebrate Shabbat was to invite friends or co-workers who have never experienced a Friday-night dinner to join me at the table. To me, this was just an opportunity to have dinner with friends, build community and force myself to keep learning more so I could field questions on Judaism. A fellow traveler remarked that it was so positive to be a shepherd in someone’s first Jewish experience, but it required a certain intensity and confidence in one’s own Judaism to put together.

So, there it was—a new meaning to the world created for my sake uncovered at a Shabbat dinner in Guatemala.

As I flew home, I saw Volcan de Fuego erupting in my mind’s eye, a soft reminder that those two slips of paper belong in our pockets because there are times when we need to recalibrate and remember that we are but a small, critical piece of a much larger world, while simultaneously unique and full of purpose, each in our own way. Our brief excursion to Guatemala was a perfect setting for my recalibration. That purpose is a little clearer.