When traveling abroad, whether for family, community, business or pleasure you probably go with a list of hopes and expectations. If it’s for family you hope to meet someone, improve or repair a relationship or just enjoy their company.
When it’s for business, you hope to meet your contact, close the deal or make some money for yourself or your company. If you go for pleasure then you hope to see the sights, relax, meet people, enjoy the company of your spouse or whatever you have planned.
Whatever reason you travel and even when you’re completely open to new and unexpected situations, there’s always a chance you’ll be disappointed and not get what you wanted. Maybe you missed the plane or your contact wasn’t where you expected. Maybe your family member wasn’t so excited to see you after all and you got into a fight. Maybe the trip didn’t improve your marriage or you didn’t make any money. Whatever it was, at times nothing goes as planned and you return after a long and expensive trip totally devastated and disappointed.
I came across a fascinating piece of inspiration and encouragement in the book Ahalech Be’amitecha (I Will Walk in Your Truth) by the late Rabbi Betzalel Stern. This book deals entirely with the Jewish laws and perspectives on travel. It’s a small-sized book with over 500 packed pages of information and I’m constantly picking up some new and interesting tidbits on Jewish travel.
In the opening pages, Rabbi Stern makes the following remarks:
Every traveler should know that all routes that a person walks or travels on, are decreed from heaven and they are an expression of the Divine Will for a lofty and hidden purpose. And He the Almighty arouses within an individual the will and the heart’s desire to walk or travel on a particular route.
When one is faced with the need to travel, one shouldn’t insist on blocking it from coming to pass.
In other words, every trip comes with two sets of goals; our goals for the trip and God’s goals.
Every person, however simple they are, repairs something in every place they go. After all, they pray there, they eat and bless on the food, and commit acts of holiness wherever they are.
Later on in the book (Ahalech Be’Amitecha Ch. 27:26) Rabbi Stern adds the following words:
If one went on a trip for a specific purpose and despite great effort, work and expense, they didn’t fulfill their goal, they shouldn’t regret the trip nor be depressed. This is because the true purpose of a trip is hidden and it could be that this Divine purpose was fully achieved.
I find these words a comfort and inspiration before leaving on a trip, because no matter what happens, whether you feel your goals were accomplished or not, you can rest assured that there was a deeper meaning to the traveling. Even if its to influence or assist a stranger on the way, there’s always something to make your trip significant.
Rabbi Mordechai Gifter and Travel
The following inspirational travel story happened to the Rosh Yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland, Ohio, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter.
One winter day, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, was at the airport about to embark on a trip to New York. One of his close students was getting married and had sent nine airplane tickets inside the invitation to his wedding. Rabbi Gifter and eight of his students were going to attend the event.
They boarded the aircraft, and just after settling in their seats, the pilot announced over the loudspeakers, that due to a blizzard in New York, they would not be able to land at Kennedy Airport. They would be heading towards Washington National Airport instead, and make their way to New York when they were able to. When they arrived at the Washington airport, Rav Gifter and his students soon realized that they were not going to make it to New York in time for the wedding.
When it was time to pray Maariv, they searched for a private place, and asked a worker who was mopping the floor if he knew of a quiet place for them to pray. The man’s reaction startled them, because he dropped his mop in alarm and it clattered to the floor. He stared at them, and then directed them to a storage room where they could pray undisturbed.
The group commenced their prayers, but instead of leaving, the cleaner stood silently at the door, watching them with a dazed expression on his face. When they had finished, they were astonished to hear him ask, “Why don’t you say Kaddish?” One of the boys explained, “We need a minyan of ten men for Kaddish, and we’re missing one man.” To their surprise, the cleaner responded, “I am a Jew. I can join your group to complete the minyan. Please,” he asked, “let me say the Kaddish.”
Rabbi Gifter helped the man recite the unfamiliar words, and after he had finished, the worker took a deep breath and said, “As you can see, I wasn’t brought up as a practicing Jew, and I barely know anything about Judaism. My father passed away several years ago, and last night he appeared to me in a dream. He said, ‘Tomorrow night is my Yahrtzeit, please say Kaddish for my soul with a minyan of ten Jewish men!’ I cried out, ‘How can I say Kaddish?! I barely know how to say the words! And how will I find a minyan?’ My father said, ‘Don’t worry, I will arrange it for you’.
Now, here you are, exactly nine of you,” continued the worker, his voice full of emotion, “Sent from Heaven so that I can say Kaddish for the benefit of my father’s departed soul!”
Rabbi Gifter then told him their side of the story, how they had only arrived there due to a snow storm in New York. Rav Gifter said, “Look how Hashem runs the world! See how He orchestrated our meeting together? Nine invitations to a wedding, a blizzard in New York, the airplane’s rerouting to Washington National Airport, and missing the wedding— all this happened so that you could say Kaddish for your father!”
No trip goes to waste !