On Tuesday night, I had the unique opportunity to return to Eretz Yisrael from an almost three month vacation in New Jersey. While this in it of itself is an important message in תשובה, and I hope each and every one of us who has not yet taken a permanent one-way journey to Israel will consider it for the future, I would like to share another idea. When our flight was leaving, a man got on the intercom, introduced himself as the captain of our flight, and told us that he would be flying us to Tel Aviv. This left me with the impression that he would, well, be flying the plane on the 6,000 mile trip, as I had previously thought pilots do on their aircraft. However, a little bit later in the flight I found out that this was not correct- I was listening to a feature called Channel 9 which plays the air traffic feed from the airplane’s radio, and I noticed that every time I heard the local air traffic controller say “United 90, increase your altitude by 500 feet,” our plane would move slightly up, and when he radioed “United 90, turn 60 degrees”, our plane would turn. This led me to the following insight; even though the captain of our flight claimed to be the one taking us to Israel, he was really being guided by a higher authority; the air traffic controllers.
We too are faced with a similar situation. As human beings, we go through life believing that we are the “captains” of our lives- we are in direct control of where we go, we know exactly where we want to be, and we know exactly how to get there. However, there is still a higher authority, the “air traffic controller” of our lives, if you would: הקדוש ברוך הוא. Even though we have the ability and responsibility to steer our lives in any direction that we would like, G-d is the higher authority who guides us, some times more obviously than others, to ensure that we do not put ourselves into danger and that we make it to our “destination” safe and sound. Like the captain of my flight to Israel, we all have the responsibility to listen to our Controller, however our instructions are received, and hopefully through our continued awareness of this, we will all reach our destinations safely, wherever they may be.
This time of the year is a time of heightened awareness of G-d’s Kingship over us- for the last nine days, we’ve been taking every opportunity to emphasize that G-d is our king, not just our Lord, and Yom Kippur represents the climax of this theme. This is why it is quite interesting that we say the following prayer at least nine times throughout this holiest day of the year:
אלקינו ואלוקי אבותינו סלח לנו מחל לנו כפר לנו, כי אנו עמך ואתה אלקינו… אנו צאניך ואתה רוענו… אנו עמך ואתה מלכינו…
Our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, forgive us, pardon us, and atone for us; for we are your nation and you are our G-d… we are your flock, and you are our shepherd… we are your nation and you are our king.
In this poetic prayer, we use different imagery to explain different aspects of our complicated relationship with G-d. A lot of the imagery here is difficult to apply to our lives, especially “כי אנו צאניך ואתה רוענו.” What does the relationship between a shepherd and his charge have to do with our relationship with G-d? When a רועה צאן shepherds his charges, he doesn’t just boss them around- he ensures that his sheep get to their destination, guiding them around obstacles and keeping them moving with an occasional prod in the back. If we think about it, this is just like an air traffic controller guiding a pilot- giving the aviator direction, keeping him and his aircraft away from obstacles, and helping him reach his destination. If we keep this metaphor in mind, then hopefully we will have a better appreciation of G-d’s מלכות (and the רועה צאן relationship) on the last of ten days that we emphasize this side of Him, and hopefully, through this increased awareness of השם’s kingship, we will all merit a חתימה טובה, being sealed in the book of life and good, and hopefully we will all be able to complete our one-way flight plans to Israel very soon.