British Airways announced “It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect. It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again, due to the downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic.”
The second would not concern many people, but to me is far far more important that the end of British Airways 747’s.
Today was my youngest child’s last day of primary school.
We are so thankful to the school who allowed year 6 to return over the last few weeks, the end of year 6 is such a special time and we are so grateful that Daniel could experience it – albeit with certain changes.
One could say the end of year 6 signals the end of childhood. Secondary school beckons, pressures of exams, syllabuses, teenage angst etc. It certainly is the end of a chapter – for us as parents and for our child as well.
There is a beautiful idea on this week’s Parsha which links the 747, and our Jewish journey both personal and national in a powerful way.
Parshat Mas’ei is blessed with a list of forty-two stations that Bnei Yisrael passed through during their wanderings in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
The question is why does God command Moshe to document the resting spots when they are already documented in the narratives of Shemot and Bamidbar?
Rashi relates to the list as historical narrative and say that the decree that the children of Israel should wander the desert for 40 years was still done with plenty of respite. The list is therefore to inform us of Hashem’s kindness even in the execution of the decree.
The Ba’al Shem Tov says that the significance of the record of stations is not just historical but internal and spiritual.
“These are the journeys…all the stops along the way apply to every human being from the day of birth until death.” (Sefer Ba’al Shem Tov: Massei).
Jewish Primary school, is certainly a stop on that journey, where we can see a huge amount was learnt and experienced and gave boys and girls beginnings on their Jewish educational journey – one that will hopefully last a lifetime. I can think of so many powerful, wonderful memories from my primary school, North West – which have helped me immensely on my Jewish journey.
Consistent with this approach of the Baal Shem Tov, symbolic significance was given to the names of the places where the Israelites camped.
R’ Mordechai Yosef Leiner – the Ishbitzer Rebbe follows the assumptions of the Ba’al Shem Tov with a teaching on two of the names of the encampments.
“And they camped in Harada “. This means that whenever a person is uncertain what Hashem wants then the best advice is to remain passive; this is the meaning of camping in Harada (trepidation). This is the situation today (mid 19th century Poland) when we are prohibited by oath not to agitate for the End of Days.
“And they departed from Harada and they camped in Makhelot” (meaning a place of ingathering): This means that when Hashem will desire to gather us in then he will instil within our hearts the courage and self-confidence so that we will not fear. May this come to be speedily in our day.” (Mei HaShiloah, Mas’ei)
The Ishbitzer is seeing his current (19th century) history as relating to the journeys in the Parsha. We can take that idea and apply it to the history of our wanderings as a people in totality – they journeyed from Israel and camped in Babylon, they journeyed from Babylon and camped in Spain they journeyed from Spain and camped in Poland.
Such is our story, such is the story of exile, moving from country to country – finding fleeting peace before packing up and moving to our next destination.
As I remark at weddings before the chatan smashes the glass. The reason that we break the glass is not simply to remember the destruction of the temples, but to realise what it led to – 2000 years of exile, persecutions, expulsions, pogroms and the Holocaust. That has been the terrible price of exile. Al Elieh ani bochiah – over these things I weep.
And here we are in those three weeks of mourning leading up to Tisha b Av, the day when both temples were destroyed.
However, this generation is a little different, which the Ishbitzer never lived to see. We have made one more journey.
We camped in Yemen and journeyed to Israel.
We camped in Russia and journeyed to Israel.
We camped in Ethiopia and journeyed to Israel.
The Ishbitzer wrote his words 200 years ago, and remarkably 100 years after he wrote those words, Hashem did gather us back to the land of Israel.
We have come home.
The ingathering I remember the most was the one I was present during – Operation Solomon in late May 1991.
Within 34 hours, 14400 Ethiopian Jews came home. We were asked as Yeshiva students to help with the arrival of thousands at various hotels and hostels around the country – it was a remarkable, memorable and moving experience.
I remember speaking to one of the elders who spoke Hebrew. I asked him, how did you come to Israel? He looked at me with tears streaming down his face and he said ‘Al Kanfei Nesharim – on eagles wings.’
What were the Kanfei Nesharim? They were Boeing 747’s.
747’s normally accommodate about 350 – 400 passengers.
During those 34 hours to bring Ethiopian Jewry home they flew approximately 1000 in each plane. In fact, they set a world record, one of the planes carried 1088. Natan Sharanksy, who was helping with the Operation tells the story about that flight. It was the last one they were allowed to fly and it was being piloted by a Holocaust survivor now in his 60’s. When Shransky told him they were full, and that they couldn’t fit everyone on, the pilot looked at him and said ‘When the Nazi’s were putting us into the cattle cars, they got all of us in – for death. You will get all those Jews into my plane – for life!’
That’s how world records are broken!
In recent years the Jewish people and the State of Israel have been graced by many other miracles, not the least being the continued survival of our state in a sea of murderous hostility and hatred.
However, the greatest miracle of all is the subtlest; the shift of consciousness, with the advent of the Zionist movement, from one of fear and helplessness for 1000’s of years to self-confidence and assumption of responsibility for our own survival.
We have made the journey in our days from Harada to Makhelot.
The subsequent political, economic and military developments are all a consequence of this fundamental shift in the mentality of the Jewish People. According to the Ishbitzer – this is part of the Divine revelation.
There is a third thing that ends today (or strictly speaking tomorrow morning) – my shloshim for my Dad – so please join me on Sunday night at 8:30pm for a shiur in his memory ‘Understanding Tisha B Av for the 21st century’.
So a day of endings – and beginnings.
A day of journeys lived and journeys remembered.
And for my son, hatzlacha on his next journey which will please God, continue to give him the ability to live as a proud, observant knowledgeable Jew in the wider world.