Blessed is the One who has given us life (shehechayanu), sustained us, and has allowed us to arrive at this moment.
It was, indeed, a spiritual homecoming. We landed about 5 hours ago and arrived at our lovely apartment about 3 hours ago. I cried on the plane reading Tefilat haDerekh, the Prayer for the Journey, and then through some other prayers in two rich compendiums for anyone traveling to Israel: Larry Hoffman’s Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide and Birkat Artzi: Blessings and Meditations for Travelers to Israel, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, my Reform rabbinic organization. I cried again reading my (and Chaim’s) friend Debbie Friedman’s, of blessed memory, version of the Traveler’s Prayer (“May we be blessed as we go on our way/May we be guided in peace/May we be blessed with health and joy/ May this be our blessing, Amen…”) and realized that we are coming up on the second yahrzeit of Debbie’s death during the time that I will be in Israel. I therefore cried some more for the brilliant creative life that was her legacy and the loss of all of those songs and teachings that she still had to offer the world.
And I cried yet again as the plane prepared to land and I saw buildings, the LAND — THE land — while Chaim focused on the weather report on the t.v. screen. “I’m having a spiritual moment, and you’re worried about the weather, not even looking out the window?” “In Judaism,” he reminded me, “the physical IS the spiritual.” I can concede that point. One of my favorite teachings of Rabbi Israel Salanter (founder of the Mussar movement) is that most people “worry about their own bellies and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls and other people’s bellies.” The physical and the spiritual are inextricably linked. This reminds me of how far I feel from God in times of physical pain and why I so love our morning blessing for the body (asher yatzar) in which we affirm how impossible it would be to “stand before God” (to pray/worship/thank) if one of our body’s openings or cavities would be open when it should be closed or closed when it should be open. Sometimes there is a dichotomy, sometimes an overlap between the spiritual and the physical. While we have countless examples of saints and holy people of all religions (including Judaism) who were impoverished in body but spiritually rich, for most of us, physical well-being creates the necessary grounding upon which a spiritual life becomes possible.
My hope is that these experiences will be woven together during this trip, the physical and the spiritual, and I believe that my two spiritual guidebooks will be helpful on that front — offering prayers and reflections for so many specific places that we will visit in Jerusalem and around the country, as well as blessings for eating on a kibbutz, for a place of Muslim or Christian worship, for seeing/hearing Hebrew all around you, and for visiting a place of recent tragedy. I am looking forward to infusing my trip with what I call “mezuzah” moments of spiritual awareness. (Just as kissing the mezuzah upon arriving and leaving the home is meant to provide an awakened mindfulness about our comings and goings, so can we create such moments throughout our day.)
I assure you, however, that I did not only cry upon my arrival. I laughed my way through Passport Control when the man asked me his questions in Hebrew and I chose to be brave and respond in Hebrew. He patiently tolerated all of my grammatical mistakes, and I promised him that my Hebrew would be greatly improved when I leave in 3-1/2 weeks. When I found out that he asked Chaim (whose Hebrew is fluent) his questions in English, I laughed even more. “Rak b’ivrit, I said to Chaim afterwards, making him promise that he would speak only Hebrew to me this trip (a promise that I imagine we will keep and break and renegotiate along the way).
I broke my Hebrew promise with the man at the falafel joint around the corner from us. I told him (in Hebrew) that we had just arrived and had no shekelim (shekels) on us, would he accept dollars? “Where did you arrive from?” he asked in English. “New York.” “Yeah, I moved here from Staten Island!” In English I had to commiserate with him about Hurricane Sandy and how it had affected Staten Island, and learned that his parents lost their home (the water reached their bed on the second floor of the house!) and had temporarily moved to California, and we then ranted about Congress miserably failing to pass emergency aid for the disaster.
We have our first neighborhood friend.
Thursday, January 3, 2013