Not far from the border, they met up with another hiker around their age, but no kippah.
As stated before on this blog, when Jews are away from media incitement & Erev Rav personalities, we get along better & like each other more.
Unless clouded by brainwashing, a Jew's gut instinct toward another Jew is to connect.
Along those lines, the kippahless hiker felt perfectly comfortable asking this obviously charedi group of yeshivah boys if he could join them.
They said "Sure!" and he spent the next 2 hours hiking with them.
Along the way, he revealed that he actually grew up in a religious home and despite his external secular appearance, he still kept Shabbat.
In addition, he recently returned from a trip to India and told them what he experienced there.
It was one of those creepy, disturbing experiences that makes you happy you're a Torah-minded monotheist.
You'll learn that India's lowest caste uses that river to conduct traditional cremations and that a "spiritual" group called Aghoris hangs out there for reasons of "transcending the material world."
Aghoris even have their own yoga called "aghora yoga."
It all sounds so spiritual & uplifting.
Yet this Israeli hiker had a different story to tell.
Transcendent Skull-Smashing & Cannibalism
Yet when a dead body floated right past him, swimming in the Ganges lost its appeal.
Then he went to see the famous funeral pyres.
He watched as they ceremoniously burned a dead man's body on a heap of wood on the water, then he watched as the dead man's oldest son climbed up and ceremoniously smashed his father's skull. (This is part of the oh-so spiritual tradition. Frankly, I can only imagine the psychological damage incurred by doing this to one's own father.)
He learned that dead men get burned while dead women & children are simply tossed into the water (hence his experience of swimming next to a floating corpse).
And while he didn't see the Aghoris, he was told how they fish out the dead bodies and charred remains...and eat them.
How spiritual! How transcendent!
The Aghoris dwell in that area, surrounded by the decaying & burning dead, in order to recapture that childlike feeling of everything being equal (like how babies & toddlers can play with or eat bugs or their own "outputs" if you don't stop them in time & teach them not to): Nothing is disgusting, nothing is scary — everything is the same.
They believe wholly pluralistic non-individualistic mentality helps one to transcend the material world.
Probably we're all in one mind about this kind of transcendence: YUCK.
(See? We've achieved plurality & non-individualistic thinking right there. We're transcendent!)
The Beauty of Holy Separation & Uniqueness
Yet he ended up with a lot more than he bargained for.
He saw where that much-lauded mentality of spiritual impurity that seeks to transcend the material leads to: disturbing death rituals & cannibalism.
It reminded me of something Rav Eliyahu Dessler wrote Strive for Truth Vol. II, Light from Darkness.
He speaks there about using "the yetzer hara to acquire a tremendous drive to holiness."
From Avraham Avinu to Moshe Rabbeinu to Am Yisrael in Egypt to Ruth, Rav Dessler notes that the repulsively tumah-filled environment pushes one toward kedushah in an effort to escape or destroy the tumah.
After seeing where Hindu spirituality leads (although many Hindus reject the specific Aghora practice), this young man felt no desire to extend his stay. He returned to Eretz Yisrael and started trekking around the most beautiful parts of the Holy Land.
And though he doesn't look outwardly religious, he maintains his Shabbat observance, which is a sign of Jewish individualism.
Shabbat is set aside from the week; it's not pluralistic or the same as every other day.
Indeed, the Havdalah ritual on Saturday night is all about separating between the holy and the regular mainstream: hamavdil bein kodesh l'chol.
So when he saw a group of like-minded yeshivah bochurs — who stand NOT for "transcending" the material world, but elevating it — he wanted to join them.
And he felt like he could.
And the boys also received a deterring glimpse of the ugliness inherent in an opposing spiritual system.