This morning I woke up very early in order to meet students at the Kotel, where they would be arriving straight from the airport after landing from a week-long trip to Poland.
In Israel, these trips to Poland are known as a מסע — a journey.
They are a journey back in time. A journey through the most treacherous period in Jewish history. A journey where students learn first hand about the horrors that our people endured but where they also learn about the greatness that existed. The communities, the yeshivot, the history. A journey where they see things firsthand so that they can remember what was but also experience and really appreciate what is.
The journey to Poland always comes back to Israel at the end and often specifically to the Kotel. Despite the Nazis’ best attempt, the Jewish nation lives on. We are strong. We are in the land where we are supposed to be. But we are still on a journey. We have not yet arrived at our final destination. There is much to still yearn and pray for; yet there is also much to take note of and appreciate.
I thought about this as the girls completed their final ceremony on the Kotel plaza, in the shadow of the Dome of the Rock. And yet there we were, Israeli flags waving in the wind, singing Hatikvah and Ani Maamin with pride.
I thought about this again as Rabbanit Chana Henkin shared some words with us. She spoke about the recent journey of millions of butterflies through Israel as they migrated from Africa to Europe. Butterflies have extremely short lifespans, and, as a result, very few of them will complete the entire trip. Nonetheless, they participate and make the journey, in the hope of reaching their breeding grounds in Europe. They are part of a whole that is greater than each individual butterfly. As a species they will reach their final destination. I thought about Rabbanit Henkin’s words in light of the horrific murder of her precious son and daughter-in-law Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin, HY”D, on their drive home, over three years ago, and the four children they left behind, who are continuing their parents’ journey.
And then I thought about this a third time when I got back to Alon Shvut and saw an email from my neighbor Cheryl Mandel about the upcoming azkara for her son. Daniel Mandel, HY”D, an Israeli soldier who was killed in Shechem 16 years ago, two days before Pesach, in the midst of the Second Intifada.
Daniel was my age. He made aliya with his family from Canada and grew up in Alon Shvut. Three years ago, his family wrote a Sefer Torah in his memory. The atzei chaim (scroll handles) of this special Sefer Torah were carved (with official permission) from branches of the Alon Haboded–the big, firm, lone oak tree that stands outside Alon Shvut. For 19 years, from 1948-1967, this tree was the symbol of hope for the exiled Jews of Gush Etzion who longed to return home. From certain points in Yerushalayim, they were able to see the tree, and they knew that one day they would be back. And here we are, in Alon Shvut, the yishuv closest to this tree and the one that is named after it.
6 years ago, on the Yom Hazikaron commemoration in Alon Shvut which took place right after Daniel’s 10th yarzheit, his father David walked across the amphitheater holding the hands of about a dozen children who had been named after Daniel by family and friends in the past decade. I will never forget that image. So much pain and yet so much life. The journey continues.
In a few days, we will G-d willing sit down to a seder and tell the story of our national journey out of Egypt. When you read the Haggadah, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that once liberated, the Jews’ road from Egypt to Israel was straightforward, with no bumps along the way. And yet we know it wasn’t so. Forty long, difficult years in the desert. By the end an almost entirely new nation enters Israel. But they enter, and they conquer, and they settle.
Journeys are long. They are arduous. They are an undertaking. They are complex. There are ups and downs along the way. But there is an endpoint.
We were reminded of that again this week as many of us watched live the anticipated landing of Beresheet, Israel’s first spacecraft to the moon. When it crashed instead of gently touching down, some of my kids were near tears. But very quickly they heard Prime Minister Netanyahu remark, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again” and operation control director Alex Friedman comment about the crash, “We are on the moon, but not in the way that we wanted to be.”
In the grand scheme of things, we are getting closer to our goals. There is much to take note of. Much to be appreciative of. It is the theme of the Dayyenu song that we will sing this coming Friday night. “If He had brought us out from Egypt and had not carried out judgements against them, Dayenu-it would have been enough!”
As I sit down to my seder, I will be thinking about all of that. Where we have been, where we are, and where we hope to get to. While we still wait and anticipate the final redemption, we take stock of the journey we have been on up to this point and sing God’s praises for every step along the way.
אדיר הוא יבנה ביתו בקרוב במהרה בימינו
He is Mighty! May He rebuild His Temple soon, speedily, in our days.