As many of you know, I went to Israel for the very first time this past November… and it changed my life in many ways. The trip was organized through AISH and the JMI. There were 34 guys from LA and almost another hundred from around the world, and most of us would agree that the trip operated on three levels:
First, it was introduction or a re-introduction to Israel… the land, the people, the history.
Second, it was a connection, or a re-connection to Judaism.
Third, it was a true bonding with these other men, most of whom still keep in touch, socialize and share life’s events with.
For those three things alone, the trip transformed my life, by giving me a deeper and more powerful connection to Israel and my Judaism… and presenting me with the gift of friendships. Making such strong connections later in life is not always easy, but I know that many of these guys will be with me for the rest of my journey.
As we sat at the Kotel at two in the morning on our first night in Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld challenged us to bring the Wall home… bring the Kotel home… and somehow let it thrive and flourish in our daily lives. For the first few weeks after I g0t home it did, giving me a sense of calm and holiness. Yet like so many things, it diminished over time, and reality and the pull of daily life won out.
Yet I fight every day to hold onto it and I continue to learn, taking classes and meeting with the Rabbis from our trip, Shlomo in particular, with whom I have developed a wonderful friendship with, as well. I wrap Tefillin and davin daily, something I would have balked at, and did, before my trip. And while I do not feel as pure and holy and special as I did in Israel, I try to rediscover, reengage and reinvigorate that feeling daily through prayer and meditation.
So for me continuing my learning is a fourth and amazing benefit from this trip, and while not every one is as connected, the opportunities are there for all of us to jump back in whenever we want.
As we approach Passover, my favorite Jewish holiday, I recall with some dread, the rote manner in which many Seders were delivered… The stained Maxwell House Hagaddahs, the fear and terror over who would have to read the Four Questions, and the desire to make it as quick as possible, so we could eat the Hillel sandwich, get to the soup and the meal. Our family had a pretty streamlined approach, but sometimes, when we went to another family member’s house… or a friend or guest… the evening could drag on. And as a kid, all you really wanted to do was to find the Affikomen and collect the prize… a crispy bill or shiny gold coin…
Yet, that is exactly the problem, at least for me… We spend so much time rushing through life that we pass over many beautiful moments… too many. We wait for the huge miracles, those the size of the Ten Plagues, and miss the daily miracles, that are just as powerful and moving.
Shlomo taught us last night, that the importance of the Seder is to transmit the story of our departure from Egypt, but even more so, to put ourselves, our family and friends, and anyone who sits at the Seder table on a quest… a quest of discovery and growth, that is most easily attained by simply asking questions. We must encourage questions and that childlike wonder from each and every one of our guests… no matter the age. And while the Haggadah asks four questions, we have the opportunity to ask many more and encourage each of our guests to do the same. Questions open up a dialogue. Questions put people on the same plane, and as we each ponder and discuss, we are all involved and actively participating.
So instead of rushing through the retelling of our exodus, let us sit with the story, understand it and question it. Let us question life and ourselves and as we celebrate Passover, let us not (from here and forever) pass over the miracles we see every single day… our family… our friends… our pets… the sky, the water, the sun… health and happiness…
Let us not pass over the challenges we all face, as they are the best teachers and gifts from Hashem, that will make us stronger and wiser and eventually happier.
If we are lucky, we will all see many great miracles in our lifetime… love, marriage, the birth of a child, dancing with Israeli soldiers at the Kotel, a Bar Mitzvah at Masada, a spontaneous Tish in the Mea Sharim .
Miracles come large and small, and the best stories are those told with the smallest, yet most detailed specifics… the little ideas that become so big and life changing.
So as we celebrate Passover, let us not pass over anything.