No Excess Baggage| December 28, 2021
Every single thing that happens in the world and in our lives is, by definition, bashert, and deeply purposeful
Standing in line for check-in at Ben Gurion airport for my flight back to the United States last week, I was happy to see a familiar face, a well-known Brooklyn rav with whom I’m very friendly. We were at different points in the queue, but we were able to get in a few snatches of conversation each time the wending of the line brought us side by side.
My friend was ahead of me, and when it was his turn at the check-in counter, I noticed that he seemed to be encountering some difficulty with the clerk. I wondered what the problem was, since he was traveling light — all he had was a carry-on suitcase and an even smaller handbag.
After what seemed like quite a number of minutes spent at the counter, I saw him head toward the security clearance checkpoint. We met up again at the gate and chatted until it was time to board. He was seated up front, and I was toward the back, so we didn’t see each other during the flight.
It was about 6:15 a.m. in New York when we landed, with nighttime’s dark blanket still spread evenly over all and sundry. My devoted daughter, who lives close by us, a short 20-minute drive from the airport, had offered to pick me up that morning in the very likely event that the early-to-bed and correspondingly very-early-to-rise little people in her home would necessitate her being up and about at that hour.
Problem was, however, that I had no way of letting her know I had landed or when I’d be ready for pickup. I didn’t want to call her that early, and since my trusty American flip-phone was about to lose power, texting and waiting for her to reply wasn’t an option, either. I was effectively incommunicado.
I knew what I needed to do: Get hold of a phone with which to dial my wife, who was still in Eretz Yisrael, and ask her to be in touch with my daughter to let her know I had landed and was waiting for my luggage. Then, get hold of a charger for my own phone, so I’d be able to be in communication with my daughter about when and where to pick me up. I realized it would be a tall order to find someone among the passengers rushing off to their destinations who’d be willing to lend me both a phone and charger and wait around until I was all set, too.
And then I spied my rabbi friend, who, I could see, was none too happy to be there at all. He’d exited the aircraft quite a bit earlier than me, yet when I arrived at the luggage carousel to retrieve my suitcase, there he was. I approached him, and his mini-saga came tumbling out. Back in Tel Aviv, he had expected it would be a cinch to board with his two small bags, even if the larger of them was in fact a pound or so over the weight limit for carry-ons. But he’d made the mistake of bundling his coat into that bag as well, sending it well over the line, and even after removing it, the check-in clerk was now unwilling to allow him to board with that suitcase in hand. After several futile attempts to shift things from one bag to the other, he’d had no choice but to check it in.
To compound matters, he said, he’d been one of the first passengers at the carousel, but after a half-hour, not a single piece of luggage had yet appeared. With each passing minute, his hopes of grabbing his little bag off the carousel and speeding toward Brooklyn in time to join his shul’s early-morning Shacharis minyan were fading fast from the realm of the possible. It was especially frustrating, he added, because when traveling to Eretz Yisrael, he purposely travels super-light, leaving a wardrobe at his children’s home there, specifically to avoid a scenario like this one where checked luggage would detain him. And yet, here he was, waiting helplessly like everyone else for the flight’s luggage to begin descending onto the conveyor belt.
He graciously lent me his phone, which I used to contact my daughter via my wife in Jerusalem. He then rummaged through the smaller bag he’d kept with him to find a charger, which I promptly used to pump new life into my phone, enabling my daughter to contact me.
As we stood chatting, I observed how one person’s rueful turn of events was another’s blessing. Had he not stuffed his coat into his bag, had the check-in clerk at Ben Gurion not made a fuss, and at the very least, had the carousel delivered his bag in timely fashion so he’d have been on his way to Flatbush before I showed up, he wouldn’t have been the shaliach enabling me to make my arrangements. My friend’s maddening delay and inability to attend his congregation’s minyan, so frustratingly senseless, suddenly made sense. It had happened so he could do another Jew — me! — a favor.
(And besides, I pointed out, he now had a ready-made derashah for the coming Shabbos, and I, a column for the next issue.)
But then, we continued to wait expectantly alongside the carousel… and wait, staring uncomprehendingly as the empty conveyor belt revolved round and round, with nary an item of luggage appearing.
My carefully constructed Hashgachah pratis story was coming apart at the seams. The resounding message of the previous confluence of events was being undone with every passing minute of further delay, for which there was no neat explanation. True, the story didn’t necessarily have the makings of an entry in Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s next volume, but still…
The clock had ticked beyond 7:15 when I sidled over to my rabbinic friend (who’d by now made his peace with catching the 9 a.m. last-minyan-before-zeman-Krias Shema at Landau’s), suggesting an even better derashah. Until this point, we thought we’d had the Ribbono shel Olam all figured out. We were pretty sure we knew precisely why He’d done what He did. It was all so bashert, just so I could get my ride home — wasn’t that obvious? But now, our having to be further detained for no readily discernible reason, with no Jew in sight who would seemingly benefit from this seemingly random delay — was that, then, somehow not bashert?
Apparently, the Eibeshter does things for many reasons, the vast majority of which are entirely inscrutable to us. Each thing that happens in the world and in our lives might well have an infinity of reasons behind it, considering that an Infinite G-d is its Cause. And yes, every single one of those things is, by definition, bashert, and deeply purposeful, whether it brings us pleasure or pain, or is simply undecipherable to our puny minds.
My friend nodded knowingly, and smiled. And, at long last, the first pieces of luggage began to drop onto the belt. Within moments, he was on his way.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 892. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at email@example.com)
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