Tag Archives: traveling for pleasure

The Spiritual Dimension to Traveling

A friend sent me the following inspirational video clip:


A former neurologist called Dr. John Kitchen, gave up a lucrative medical career to spend the rest of his days roller skating along the Pacific Beach boardwalk. He now goes by the name of “Slomo” and skates day and night. His life philosophy is “Do as you want to“.

It made me think. When you travel, not to get from place A to B or to accomplish a specific task at place B, but just for the enjoyment of traveling, is there a meaning to it? Is there more to travel then just “Do as you want to“?

Can one integrate into a journey, a deeper significance (as a Jew) and make long-term travel into something spiritual?

This reminds me of a story:

The Chafetz Chaim and the Bus Driver

The Chafetz Chaim got on a bus and upon discovering the driver was a Jew, told him how much he envied the driver’s share in the World to Come.

“You do so many acts of Chessed (kindness) all day by taking people to their destinations”, the Rabbi exclaimed. “But this is my job. I get paid to drive people around. I’m not taking them purely for altruistic reasons”, protested the driver.

“Even though you’re getting paid, your focus should be on the fact that you’re helping your fellow Jew get from place to place”, answered the sage, “Your salary is to enable you to do acts of kindness. Without earning a living, you couldn’t invest your time in driving people to their destinations”.

I understand from the Rabbi’s words that one can and should imbue even simple and mundane actions with a deeper spiritual dimension. It’s all a matter of focus.

Spiritual Dimension to Traveling
Traveling for Business or Pleasure?

Spiritual Dimension to Traveling

Here are a few ideas which lend a spiritual dimension to traveling:

  •  Kiddush Hashem: Any action by a Jew that brings honor, respect, and glory to God and His Torah is considered to be sanctification of His Name, whereas any behavior or action that disgraces, harms or shames God’s name and his Torah is regarded as a Chillul Hashem (desecration of the Name). This means that even on vacation when you want to loosen the reins a bit, you still need to behave pleasantly and respectfully to the locals. Saying “please” and “thank you” are the very minimum, along with relating to people with honesty and integrity. When you behave yourself properly on vacation, people will feel that its good dealing with Jews and that’s a Kiddush Hashem.

Help people respect Jews.

There used to be a time (I hope this has changed by now) when Israeli tourists weren’t very welcome abroad.

The Israeli tourists would push ahead of others who were standing in line. They’d speak aggressively and look down at the locals. When staying at hotels they’d walk off with towels and room equipment. It got to the point that the Israeli government did a whole Public Relations drive to change tourist behavior abroad.

I think today the situation is much better. It hadn’t been that much of a Kiddush Hashem back then…

  •  Kindness: Like in the story of the Chafetz Chaim and the bus driver, wherever you travel you’ll meet people who need help. They don’t have to be starving orphans in Cambodia who need a slice of bread to survive. Even helping a handicapped fellow traveler with their luggage is an act of Chessed. So is giving a less knowledgeable traveler directions to their next stop.

Do simple acts of kindness every day of your trip.

  • Observing the Mitsvos in challenging situations: Keeping Shabbos and Kashrus and attending prayers in a synagogue are part of being an observant Jew. Doing them while in transit is a greater challenge. (What do you do if you’re stuck in a hotel room on Shabbos, and you can’t open the door without engaging an electronic sensor?) In fact it is written in the Rabbinical writings “Lefum Tsa’ara Agra“, the reward is proportionate to the difficulty.

Do your best to observe the Mitsvos under all conditions.

  • Teaching Torah: Whether you meet other Jews or Non-Jews, people are curious about Judaism. Don’t be shy, teach others what you know. You’ll be expanding their awareness of Torah, and you’ll understand more yourself.

Teach someone a bit of Judaism every day.

  • Spreading Sparks of Holiness: I remember the year of saying Kaddish for one of my parents. I did a lot of traveling at the time and for some reason kept a record of every different place that I said Kaddish. At the end of the year the list was long and fascinating. There is a spiritual significance not only to the act of doing a Mitsvah but also to the fact one did that Mitsvah in a specific location. I read that the Baal Shem Tov went from place to place to spread sparks of Holiness everywhere he went and make spiritually repairs everywhere he stayed over.

Leave your spiritual mark at every stop.

  • Appreciation for God’s creation: When one observes the wonders of the world like vast oceans or majestic mountains, then one can recite the blessing “Oseh Maaseh Breishis” to express our appreciation for the beauty God created in the world. One can’t make this blessing by looking up Niagara Falls on Google Images. You’ve got to be there and see them to feel thankful to God that they exist. Travel brings many Oseh Maaseh Breishis moments.

Thank God for all His beauty wherever  you go.

Whatever reason you have for going on the next trip, you can make it more meaningful, more spiritual and more significant if you invest a bit of thought and focus.

Of course you can “Do as you want to“. But put in a bit of spirituality at the same time.

May a Jew Travel For Pleasure?

Over the years I’ve gone through some fascinating travel books. Not only guidebooks like Lonely Planet and such, but also books that address the essence and spirit of travel and explain how best to maximize the experience irrespective of where you decide to go.

Some of my favorites:

  • “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”  and the sequel “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer” by Rolf Potts.
  • “Traveler’s Tool Kit: How to Travel Absolutely Anywhere!” by Rob Sangster
  • “The Four Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss
  • “The Road Junky Travel Handbook”,
  • The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton, and other books.

I’ve seen a few good travel films too on the essence of backpacking like “A Map for Saturday” by Brook Silva-Braga.

One thing they have all have in common is to encourage travel for the sake of the journey and not to arrive somewhere in particular. They see travel as a way of life, to explore the world, meet with people and cultures, taste (literally and figuratively) what life has to offer. It is also an inner journey to know oneself on the way and develop one’s potential. Some might call it a “geographical cure” (like driving from New York to L.A.) to find insight or inner peace on the way.

As I read those books I too get a craving to travel more. G-d has given us a beautiful world, so many places to see, so many people to meet, so many things to do, and why not see all that I can while I can still do it? Call it Wanderlust or whatever. I have it, and travel books just make the feeling grow and grow…

traveling for pleasure | The Wandering Jew by By François Georgin (http://www2.ku.edu/~sma/almanac/peri8.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Wandering Jew
Then a little voice in my Jewish head begins to ask questions. I start to wonder about the value of travel for travel’s sake as a Jew. Is it good thing, is it bad or is it neutral?

(As a byline there are Rabbi’s who divide every act into two types; a “Mitzvah” – a positive action or an “Aveira” – a negative action AKA a “sin”. There are no neutral actions. Anything that doesn’t make you grow spiritually will pull you down. There are also Rabbi’s who accept the philosophical possibility of a neutral act. It can be good or bad and it can be neutral).

Is travel for travel’s sake and for pleasure a good thing or a bad thing for a Jew to do or maybe it’s neutral and it all depends on where you go, what you do on the way (and with whom…)?

I’d like to divide the answer into 3 parts:

  1. Traveling to the Land of Israel
  2. Traveling abroad from the Land of Israel
  3. Travel for the sake of travel

Traveling to the Land of Israel

Traveling to Israel whether for business, family, pleasure or whatever is a definite YES. It’s an absolutely awesome Mitzvah to visit the Land (and even better to live there permanently, but we won’t go into that now…). The Talmud states that every step we take walking around in Israel is a fulfillment of God’s Will. So if your Wanderlust takes you to the Holy Land, don’t hesitate for a moment (as long as passport and money is in order).

Leaving the Land of Israel

Leaving the land of Israel has specific Jewish Laws governing it. According to the Halacha (Jewish Law), one may not leave the Land of Israel just for pleasure alone. One may only go (even temporarily) for very good reasons:

  • To earn a living
  • To study Torah
  • To find a spouse

In reality, there is a bit of flexibility in this rule as one may also travel abroad for physical and mental health reasons, to visit one’s parents, to visit the grave-sites of Rabbinical figures and close family members, to visit the sites of the Holocaust and basically to fulfill a Mitzvah abroad.

CIA WorldFactBook-Political world

In my humble opinion this extra list gives a broad range of freedom of choice. After all, living in Israel might be a Good Deed, but it can also be challenging at times. Stresses pile up politically, socially &  personally, at work, at home, in the family and in marriage. Sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered, to take a break, disconnect from the day-to-day hassle and go abroad for a few days or weeks to clear the mind and soul.

We covered so far 2 out of 3 of the travel categories, and now we get to the issue of:

Traveling for Pleasure

Climbing the Kilimanjaro | traveling for pleasure
Climbing the Kilimanjaro

In my humble opinion when one travels to get rid of stress or any of the reasons mentioned, its pretty clear that travel can be good. But what about going on a 6 month backpacking journey across the Asian Continent? What about climbing the Kilimanjaro Mountain in Tanzania (it’s the highest peak in Africa and takes over a week of heavy walking, including Shabbat, to make it to the peak)? How about kayaking the 7000 km route of the Amazon River or sailing across the Pacific?

To be honest I’m still struggling with the idea and haven’t come to a definitive conclusion. On one hand maybe a 6 month trip is good for the body and soul, but on the other hand…..

What’s your opinion?

To be continued…