I had it all planned out.
Following a busy week of meetings in Washington, D.C., I arrived at Baltimore Washington Airport for a short flight to Philadelphia where I would catch my flight to Israel in time for Yom Kippur. My wife and children would pick me up from the airport, we would stop at my father’s grave on the way home to continue that pre-Yom Kippur ritual, would arrive home and prepare my family for the holy day including giving them the special blessing, and spend the next day in prayer and introspection in the inspiring services at the Reishit Yerushalayim yeshiva in Bet Shemesh.
And then lightning struck. Literally.
A lightning bolt struck the air traffic control tower at BWI airport and all communications were knocked out. No planes could land. No planes were allowed to take off. And there went my plans. I write these words on a train heading for New York where I will spend Yom Kippur in unfamiliar territory so I can catch a flight back to Israel right after the holy day. No pre-Yom Kippur visit to my father’s grave, no blessing my children in person alongside my wife, no prayers at Reishit which I look forward to all year, and no holy day in the Holy Land.
I don’t understand why God did not allow me to carry out my plans. What was wrong with them?
As I sit here looking out the train window, staring at the trees, buildings, and fields whizzing by, I realize that there is no greater lesson for me to learn as Yom Kippur arrives. Yom Kippur is a day in which we pause and remind ourselves that we are not in charge. We can make our plans. We can think that we know what is right. We can serve as leaders and government officials and do our best to make decisions. But, at the end of the day, we are just human beings. We are mortal. We are fallible. And we do not have ultimate control.
Once a year we put aside our selfish physical side, and remind ourselves that we are dependent on our Creator. We turn to God as one unit – the wealthy alongside the less fortunate, the more successful with those who are less successful, the saintly and the “sinners” who are specifically welcomed to join the services – all on the same level and recognize our failures, and acknowledge our dependence on a Higher Being. We confess our sins, commit ourselves to improvement, and pray for a year of blessing.
Taking this day seriously instills us with humility. It reminds us of our frailties and our limitations. It levels the playing field among all human beings regardless of their stature and accomplishments.
And things not working out the way we planned reminds us of the same.
May all of us enter Yom Kippur with the understanding that we don’t know it all, that all we can do is try our best while constantly learning from life’s experiences and lessons and from those around us, and that our status as finite human beings means that there is always room to improve and we must always strive for growth.