During my recent trip to the United States for the wedding of my grandson I suffered the dreaded fate of many airline passengers – standing at the luggage carousel and slowly realizing, to my horror, that one piece of my luggage is nowhere to be seen. After filing the necessary documents with the lost and found luggage service of that airline and being vaguely reassured by the attendant there that “the bag will turn up – they usually do” I began to wait.
Since I was leaving for Israel and home the next day, there was only a short window of opportunity for the bag to be returned to me. The airline had five days to deliver the bag but I could wait only one day. I began to call the airline regularly in hopes of locating my bag. The first five calls rendered the information that the airline had not yet found the bag but that I should keep in touch. The next morning, the day of my departure for Israel, the airline told me that they had located the bag and were sending it out for delivery.
I asked them to hold the bag at the airport and that I would come immediately to pick it up. They agreed to do so but when I arrived at the airport’s luggage services office the attendant told me that the bag had been sent out for delivery. I called the delivery service and was then told that the bag had been picked up by them in error and that they were sending it back to the airport. By now I only had a few hours left before my departure to Israel.
Again I contacted the airport’s luggage service and was assured me that my bag was in the luggage storage area. I drove to the airport once more in high hopes of retrieving my bag. However, after a fifteen minute search in the storage room, the attendants could not find my bag. Frustrated and desperate, I finally asked to see the supervisor of the luggage services office. After recounting my tale of woe to him he said to me: “Why don’t you go back there yourself and look for your bag.” And so I did. There were hundreds of bags forlornly waiting to be redeemed by their rightful owners. After an intensive ten minute search I located my bag at the far end of the second room of the storage area. So all’s well that ends well, but it was a pretty exhausting experience.
So why do I burden you with all of this story? I am not the only person in the world who has suffered through a lost luggage experience. But as I was engaged in this entire exercise of futility and frustration, I realized that the Jewish people as a whole are involved in a national lost luggage syndrome. Hence our continuing angst and frustration over our current situation and our clouded future.
The forces of secularism, Marxism, and pure nationalism lost the luggage that Israel carried with it through its long exile. Torah and religion were nowhere to be found on our luggage carousel. For a number of generations, many Jews did not seem to mind or even notice that something was missing. But eventually, circumstances and events forced us to notice that we were missing an important piece of luggage. That bag contained faith, stability, hope, tradition, purpose, and history. It contained those items that sustained us for millennia and kept Israel vibrant and strong in spirit and mind. And in the dark times that we find ourselves in now, we realize that our bag is missing, waiting to be retrieved from the lost luggage area of our national conscience and acquired memory.
But no outside attendant can find that bag and return it to us. For only we recognize the bag that belongs to us. The rabbis of the Talmud taught us that a wise person can identify an item that is lost by recognizing it even if it does not have any distinguishing markings. We know instinctively that that bag is ours simply by looking at it.
The recent trends in Jewish society the world over and here in Israel indicate the beginning of a slow but meaningful return to tradition. And this is happening to Jewish groups that were opposed to tradition for centuries. This is indicative of this sighting of lost luggage. But again, only we can find and retrieve our lost luggage. The process of retrieval will be long and painful, filled with frustration and wrong turns, but it is an inevitable course in the story of the Jewish people.