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Home » B'Har, Shavuot

B’har Bechukotai: Spiritual Significance of Volcanoes

Submitted by on May 11, 2009 – 2:03 amNo Comment | 5,055 views

Frailties of Nature

Have you ever wondered about the spiritual significance of volcanoes? Well wonder no more. This essay is your answer.

There are rocks and there are plants. The difference between them; one can grow, the other cannot. There are two kinds of people; those who grow, change and adjust and those who do not.

Some won’t budge because they are comfortable with their status quo; others won’t budge because they don’t believe they can change. There are Type A Personalities who drive themselves to exhaustion seeking to outperform themselves every day. They know they are driven by unhealthy emotions and realize that they pay a terrible price. They never enjoy the present because they are always concerned with the future. Their families never see them and their children grow up without them, but they refuse to change. Ask them why, “It’s in my nature,” they’ll reply.

Then there are those who are always nursing grudges or regrets. They are forever focused on a past that could have been and an opportunity that almost was. They don’t allow themselves to enjoy the present and cannot even conceive of a future because they are mired firmly in the past. They too know their shortcomings and they too won’t budge.  Ask them why, “It’s in my nature,” they’ll reply.

How about those who were raised in a moderately traditional Jewish household where the dietary laws were observed and Shabbat was celebrated? They realize that our heritage is filled with delightful celebrations and unimaginable depth; the surface of which they have barely scratched. They know there is many more rituals than they currently practice and much more passion than they currently experience. Yet they are not ready to upgrade their religious experience. They are not ready to take it to the next level. Ask them why, “It’s not the way I was raised,” they’ll reply.

A Mountain

These rock like personalities are steady and dependable, but like a rock they refuse to budge. As we approach the holiday of Shavuot and reflect on receiving the Torah we recall that the Ten Commandments were given on a mountain; an unyielding immobile pile of rock called Mount Sinai.  There can be nothing more solid than a mountain. Right?


I draw your attention back to your elementary science classes where you first learned how mountains are formed. Some mountains are formed when one of earth’s giant plates presses against another till the surface above pushes up and folds over itself forming a mountain. Sometimes one plate rides up over the other, in which case the folded down plate begins to melt. The molten rock rises through cracks and weak spots till it bursts out in fiery volcanoes. After breaking through the earth’s crust the hot lava cools, settles, and forms a mountain.spiritual volcanoes innerstream

Let me repeat that. A rocky surface sits immobile for millennia while change brews deep inside. In one momentous sweep (that evolves over time) the immobile rock is roused from its slumber and propelled upward. It is made to grow and rise till it reaches mountainous heights.

The Kabbalists were aware of this phenomenon long before science discovered it; they called it the soul of the inanimate impregnated by the soul of vegetation. They argued that given correct set of conditions even the inanimate, the mountain, is capable of animation and growth. (1)

Our souls encompass a plethora of levels. There is a dimension within our soul that is growth oriented; it always seeks creative ways to ascend and to improve. There is another dimension that is inanimate; this is our capacity for rock like determination and focused concentration. These two dimensions can contradict each other or compliment each other depending on how we apply their strengths. When we use our determination to overcome hurdles the two dimensions become symbiotic. When we use our rock like steadiness to stunt our growth the two paralyze each other.

To illustrate this dynamic let us borrow an example from the economy. When the economy is on the rise and opportunity abounds our creative side seeks ways to capitalize. At the same time our steady, dependable side cools our ardor and counsels caution. When the two are properly aligned we make wise decisions that promote growth and security. When they are not  properly aligned we either turn caution into timidity, stunting momentum and growth or fling caution to the wind and engage in risky ventures that collapse as the economy slows.

The dynamic between these two dimensions is in constant flux; such is human nature. At times we are filled with momentum and at times our progress stalls. When our forward momentum is arrested and we adopt a posture of rigidity we need an eruption to help us break through the logjam. Just like the mountain, we require an eruption of volcanic proportions to propel us forward.

Shavuot; A Volcanic Holiday

Enter the holiday of Shavuot. The day that G-d gave us the Torah is imbued with a powerful energy of inspiration. The same inspiring energy that moved our ancestors to proclaim “We will do and we will listen” speaks to us every year on this day. This is the day that inflames our spiritual passion and informs our spiritual commitment. The inspiration of this day fans the flame of our soul and propels us forward. If we attune our spiritual ears to the energy of this day we can overcome our personal obstacles and reach our spiritual goals. The rock like dimension of our soul will give way to the roiling ocean of searing energy that lies just beneath the surface; waiting to erupt and carry us aloft.

Utilizing this day to its fullest requires preparation. This means a thorough examination of our inner being to determine where we have stalled and what requires jump starting. It also means undertaking specific resolutions that will better our spiritual and physical well being. Shavuot inspires momentum on the spiritual plane, but once achieved on the spiritual plane it can spread to all areas of life; helping us secure emotional, intellectual and psychological harmony. (2)

And now you know the spiritual significance of volcanoes…


  1. Toras Chaim Vayigash, 232a. Clearly we are not talking about growth in the stone, we simply note that the stone is uplifted. It is also noteworthy that plant growth is nurtured by the inanimate earth.
  2. This is the message of the double Torah portion of this week. The name of the first portion is Behar – upon the mountain. The Jew’s natural place is atop the mountain; at the apex of spiritual achievement. Reaching this apex inspires a commitment to the Torah and to its way of life. Indeed, the name of the second Torah portion that we read this week is Bechukosai – performance of the Divine edicts.
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