June/July 2019

Of the Book


By Rabbi Daniel Bortz

There’s no shortage of adventures and funny stories when you travel as a religious Jew. Years ago I was sitting towards the front of a plane. It was time for the morning prayer so I took out my Tefillin and began. For the Amidah prayer, one is meant to face Jerusalem, but since we were flying west I had to stand and face east — at the entire plane. After doing everything I could to “fit in with the crowd” during my younger years, this was definitely going against that grain.

Travel experiences have a unique effect on our lives, and the summer months are more associated with traveling than the rest of the year. I want to share with you something that resonated with from the Torah portion r the week that I am writing this in — Bechukotai, that may add inspiration in one’s travel experience. G-d tells the Jewish people: “I will place My dwelling in your midst … I will stroll among you, I will be your G-d, and you will be my people.”

Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno of the 16th century comments: “The word stroll denotes that G-d will be among the Israelites wherever they go and not limited to one specific place — the sanctuary. “I will stroll among you” — G-d’s glory will be manifest wherever His children venture.”

There are certain places that inspire our hearts and minds and bring us comfort. For many of us that may be a special place like the old city of Jerusalem. I lived there for two years and still felt awe every time I descended the steps leading to the kotel and glimpsed it from afar. For some of us it may be as simple as the comfort of our own home, city, or country.

But this verse is telling us that G-d “strolls” with us wherever we find ourselves. We have the ability to feel that connection anywhere. I’ve traveled the world in my youth, sometimes alone, and it can feel isolating without one’s dependable support system to rely on while in unfamiliar surroundings. But that isolation gave me a greater connection and reliance on Divine providence.

There is a Divine presence near us at all times, as a parent is with a young child. The Baal Shem Tov taught: “Always be joyful. Think and believe with perfect faith that the Shechinah (G-dly Presence) is at your side and watches over you. You look at the Creator, blessed be He, and the Creator looks at you.” The Zohar states: “There is no place devoid of Him.” Regardless of where you find yourself, you’re never alone.

This summer I will travel again. Sitting in my airplane seat, legs crushed and back stiff, I will pull out the “Traveler’s prayer” in Hebrew and recite it as the plane takes off, recognizing that I am not in full control of this journey. The Jewish story is one of travel, as most of the Torah is made up of a nation traveling in a barren desert only with Divine protection keeping them alive.

Traveling is a microcosm of our entire lives, essentially a trip our soul is taking as it visits this earth and body on a short-term mission to learn, grow, and accomplish. If we happen to visit any new place this summer, let’s do the same, using it as an opportunity to learn something new from the experience. If it’s uncomfortable, that means it’s a growth opportunity, a chance to realize you have more capability than you ever thought, and no matter how sketchy the situation looks, G-d always has your back.


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