Shavuot 5780

May 26, 2020

You Don’t Need a Ticket to Travel

A Shavuos message by Rabbi Yisroel Fine


Although the travel industry has been hardest hit by Covid 19, many have discovered the art of travel without leaving their homes. By that I mean the possibility of accessing the virtual tourist films taking you to countries beyond your dreams or perhaps your pockets.

One can also clock up hundreds of miles on your exercise bike or treadmill, or merely dream of cancelled holidays as they become more distant by the day.

However, when Reb Zusha of Annapol interpreted “Lech Lecha” as Hashem’s instruction to Avraham to embark on a journey of self-discovery, he was perhaps describing the most arduous journey of all; the journey to get to know our real selves. According to Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, ‘דע את עצמך’ – “Know yourself”, is the one journey which is required travel for every Jew. Is it not, therefore, with some irony that the very travel restrictions imposed by lockdown have handed to us the free tickets to the most important and endless journey of all? The rewarding expedition of self-discovery.

Our daily excursion through our itinerary of Torah, Avodah and Gemilus Chassodim may have been curtailed, but who will not admit that other opportunities have revealed themselves. In Torah, through more and varied shiurim at the touch of a button. In Avodah, through enhanced Kavanah free from the constraints of time or a frenzied Shliach Tzibur, and in Gemilus Chasodim, through deeper reflection in our relationships with family and friends.

The first national journey of our people from Egypt to Har Sinai may have taken everyone on the same geographical route and covered the same distance but, in an intriguing observation, the Ksav Vehakabalah indicates that for each individual the journey was a personal route of the spirit, longer for some and shorter for others. Accordingly, the Sinai experience for each individual was entirely commensurate with the spiritual preparation and journey undertaken, exhilarating for some and less so for others.

How so? Har Sinai is described as an ”אש אוכלת” (Shemos 24:17), a consuming fire. Consuming what? Do not all fires consume? Yes, but only to the degree that the fuel is present. The more fuel the larger the flame, and in its absence just a flicker for there is nothing to consume. The fire that was experienced at Har Sinai was nothing other than the fire of blissful ecstasy that entered the soul of each participant. But the fire needed the fuel of spiritual anticipation accumulated during that historic forty-nine-day journey that was like no other before or since.

A story is told of an elderly builder who was ready to retire. He told his employer of his plans to leave the building industry and live a more leisurely life with his wife, enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheque, of course, but he was looking forward to retirement. They would manage somehow.

The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favour. The builder agreed, but as time went by, it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.

When the builder had finished the assignment, the employer came to inspect the house. He handed the front-door key to the builder and said: “My gift to you!” The builder was shocked! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it so differently.

The homes that we build and the life’s journeys we undertake remain our epitaph and ours only.