Ear­li­er this week, Eric Wein­er wrote about car­rots, fish, and Jew­ish souls. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I’ve writ­ten a book about my spir­i­tu­al jour­ney,” ful­ly aware what an oft abused, dan­ger­ous­ly clichéd term it is. The prob­lem with spir­i­tu­al jour­ney” (one of many, actu­al­ly) is that it is usu­al­ly used aspi­ra­tional­ly. We ven­ture far from home, in search of some­thing, and so we con­vince our­selves we found it. 

Just because we label a jour­ney spir­i­tu­al, though, doesn’t make it so, and the fact is: some­times we’re bet­ter off stay­ing at home. The far­ther you trav­el, the less you know,” warns Lao-Tzu, the Taoist sage. 

Yet this was the same sage who gave us the won­der­ful apho­rism: A jour­ney of a thou­sand miles begins with a sin­gle step.” Was Lao-Tzu con­flict­ed? Was he delib­er­ate­ly try­ing to con­fuse us? 

I don’t think so. He knew that it’s not whether we trav­el or not, but how that mat­ters. Trav­el, done prop­er­ly, dis­ori­ents us, and it is through this dis­ori­en­ta­tion that any spir­i­tu­al jour­ney actu­al­ly lives up to its name. This is the sort of trav­el Hen­ry Miller had in mind when he said that One’s des­ti­na­tion is nev­er a place but a new way of see­ing things.” 

If dif­fer­ent places didn’t evoke dif­fer­ent feel­ings, dif­fer­ent ways of expe­ri­enc­ing, we might as well stay at home, espe­cial­ly now, giv­en the enhanced inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques that pass for air trav­el these days.

But we must choose our places care­ful­ly. Many sup­pos­ed­ly sacred places dis­ap­point. Freight­ed with his­to­ry, and our out­sized expec­ta­tions, they col­lapse under the weight of their own sacredness. 

Such a fate has befall­en many a shrine or tem­ple. What­ev­er spir­i­tu­al essence once exist­ed there has long evap­o­rat­ed, siphoned off by oppor­tunists and posers. Today they pos­sess all of the divin­i­ty of a Grey­hound bus sta­tion. They are dead places. 

Then there are places like Tzfat, in north­ern Israel. There, the air is soft and plush. It is no dead place. Ever since the 16th cen­tu­ry, Tzfat has been a cen­ter of Kab­bal­ah, the mys­ti­cal arm of Judaism, and it still attracts those look­ing for taste of the ein sof, or infi­nite.

The denizens of Tzfat are spir­i­tu­al free agents, cob­bling togeth­er a bit of this, a bit of that, and some­how mak­ing it all work. It is one of those places that the ear­ly Celts called thin places,” locales where the dis­tance between heav­en and earth col­laps­es and, for per­haps the first time, we can taste the divine.

Eric Wein­er iis a for­mer for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for NPR, a philo­soph­i­cal trav­el­er — and recov­er­ing mal­con­tent. His new book, Man Seeks God: My Flir­ta­tions with the Divine, is now avail­able.  

Eric Wein­er is the author of the New York Times best­sellers The Geog­ra­phy of Bliss and The Geog­ra­phy of Genius, as well as the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed Man Seeks God and, his lat­est book, The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philoso­phers. A for­mer for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for NPR, he has report­ed from more than three dozen coun­tries. His work has appeared in the New Repub­lic, The Atlantic, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, The Wall Street Jour­nal, and the anthol­o­gy Best Amer­i­can Trav­el Writ­ing. He lives in Sil­ver Spring, Mary­land, with his wife and daughter.