This week, those of us in the diaspora will be reading the portion of Aharei Mot while our brothers in Israel will be reading the portion which follows, Kedoshim Tihiyu. This difference in the weekly portion is caused when with our additional day of Yom Tov. Last Shabbat while we in the exile were celebrating the eighth day of Passover, those in Israel had already ended Passover on Friday night. So for the next 15 weeks or so, all the way through the 9th of Ab, we will be reading different portions.
Aharei Mot Kedoshim Tihiyu – After the death, you should be holy.
I find it interesting how difficult times bring us together. Human nature leads us to seek the comfort of others, not only when we face tragedy, but when find ourselves in any shared trouble.
Rabbi Rephael Farhi who was visiting Florida for Passover reminded me of this fact.
My son Moses and I left for Florida on the Tuesday night before Passover. We were originally booked on JetBlue’s 7:30 flight out of LaGuardia. We met at the airport at around 6PM and checked our bags and walked out to the gate for a 7PM boarding. My sister Ellen texted to ask me if the flight was cancelled as it no longer appeared on the schedule. We asked at the gate and they said there was a delay, but the flight was still scheduled and the plane was already at the gate. People who might normally ignore each other started to speak. A group of guys was trying to arrange for Mincha and although we both prayed already, we stood with them to form a quorum, introducing ourselves and playing Jewish geography while we waited. The flight appeared to be made up of Jewish families on Exodus to Miami for the Passover. Lots of parents and grandparents were there accompanied by even more kids and carriages.
And then at 7:30, the dreaded announcement came over the loudspeaker.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. We are sad to inform you that the 7:30PM flight to Fort Lauderdale has been cancelled due to an equipment failure. Please make your way out to the check in counters and they will assist you. We have no additional information at the gate.”
While the Minyan was completing the final kaddish and the people all around us began to panic, I dialed JetBlue. Your call will be answered in 12 minutes. Figuring we might need to make a mad dash to Kennedy, I sent Moses to the baggage carousels to grab our two bags and made it out to the check in counter where a dozen families were already on line ahead of me as the agent in charge tried to deal with the panic along with those checking in for the 9:30 flight.
The gate attendant had already announced that the 9:30 flight was pretty full and there were a few seats, but most of us would need to be rebooked from other airports or other days. He begged us to have patience and to allow those checking in for the 9:30 flight ahead of us. One imagines the worse as I heard someone saying they would rebook us for Friday. All I could think was that Friday wouldn’t really work!
While on line an agent picked up. I explained the situation, gave her our confirmation status and suggested getting on a flight to either West Palm or Fort Lauderdale out of Kennedy or LaGuardia. I also asked her to see if she could steal the two seats reserved for security on the 9:30 flight that night. The phone agent hearing the commotion apologized, noting my frequent flyer status and confirmed she had blocked two seats on the 9:30 flight. Pushing my luck I asked for isles in the front and she gave us row three. She told me my confirmation number would stay the same and she would update my boarding passes on my phone. Amazing!
I then noted the growing anxiety in the faces of my new minyan friends with the kids on line, so I asked if the agent on the phone could help any others. She said she would try and I handed the phone to one of the fathers, but cautioned him to hand the phone to the next person when done. We were now one group of Jews, some with hats and some with streimels in their boxes, some with baseball caps and some bareheaded, but we were in this together. Over the next thirty minutes the agent at the airport had not assisted a single person, while the agent on the phone rebooked the entire minyan with only one sub-group of eight being asked to quickly get to Kennedy. And we eventually met that sub-group in Fort Lauderdale while collecting luggage at 2AM that morning. I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the people from the 7:30 flight either, but our newly extended family all seemed to make it.
Strangely enough, while on the line after handing off my phone, I realized I did not have my license and identification. Didn’t we have enough panic for one evening? As my phone was being used, I borrowed a phone from one of my new friends and called Moses downstairs at the luggage carousel. He didn’t see anything. I then asked my new friends to watch my carry-on bags while I checked with security. One who was already confirmed for the 9:30 flight with us volunteered to watch everything if I had to take a cab home to get a passport. I hoped that would not be needed.
I walked over to security and the TSA agent in charge came out to meet me. He told me that no identification had been found in the last hour but he would double check. He asked me for anything else with my name, took that and asked me to wait. I went back to see if Moses had returned and to make sure someone was still using my phone. I walked back to the security desk and the agent checking identifications called me over. He handed me my ID case with my license and ID. He said that it must have slipped out of the basket going through the X-ray machine as the supervisor found it there. When I returned to the gate, Moses was there and together with our new friends we rechecked our luggage, passed through security and prayed that this flight would not be too delayed.
And while waiting for the flight I learned about the other guys we had prayed with. I learned about where they came from, where they were going and all about their families. We exchanged ideas and chidushim on Pesach and boarded with a whole different feeling.
One could really see where the minyan and the cancelled flight brought people together and allowed people to open their eyes and better understand each other and be willing to go out of their way to assist each other. The world may abide by a different set of rules where passengers and crew on stricken vessels have historically abided by the axiom: “Every man for himself.” As Jews, I saw this was not the case. I learned so much from a cancelled flight.
My dad would say the world is filled with lessons. Every moment is an opportunity to learn and incorporate.
We should keep this in mind this week as we commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day
Author Aharon Appelfeld, a Holocaust survivor, while visiting the Zigfried Mozes Old Age Home in Jerusalem, explained that "as IDF commanders, it is our duty to instill in all the soldiers of the IDF the enormity of the responsibility they bear -- to carry the torch of remembrance of the survivors of the Holocaust and the victims of the Holocaust for many years to come, and to pass it on to future generations. Ensuring the existence and security of the State of Israel is our way of perpetuating their choice -- by choosing life."
And next week we will also commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, not with barbecue and massive sales but with moments of silence and visits to cemeteries.
In these moments, it is crucial to remember and to remind that we are not alone, but we stand with each other. It’s a pity that it often takes bad news to bring us together, but at least it doesn’t break us apart. And as we stand with each other during and after tragedy we should be blessed that Hashem will stand with us for all time. VeAhavata LeRehacha Kamocha …. And you should love your friend as yourself … only then Ani Hashem … only after you come together can I be your G-d. Let’s show Hashem this week and next how we truly come together and let him bless us to come together in joy and in happiness with the coming of Mashiach Bimherah BeYameynu Amen.
Rabbi David Bibi