Who Took the Suitcase?

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Early one morning shortly before Pesach, I went to Miami Airport to pick up my daughter and her family who had just traveled for 14 hours with two little children.  We quickly loaded the children and suitcases in the car and got back on the road, trying to beat the morning traffic.  We made good time to Boca, unloaded the car, and came into the house to huge greetings and lots of excitement.  After a few minutes, when it was time to put the suitcases away, my daughter began to panic.  


The large suitcases were all accounted for, but a small carry-on was nowhere to be found.  We went back to the car and it wasn’t there.  We looked around the entrance of the house and it wasn’t there.  The missing bag had more than just Bamba and Bisli.  It had a sheitel, Tallis and Tefillin, a laptop, jewelry, and other expensive and irreplaceable items.  My daughter called the airport but didn’t get through to anyone who could help so despite just having taken an arduous and exhausting journey, she got back in the car to head back to the airport to try to track down this lost bag.  


When she got there, it wasn’t on the curb where had last seen it.  She parked and went inside, and it wasn’t in the lost and found. She was told to file a police report, which she did. She asked if they could review the security cameras to see what had happened and maybe who had taken it, but they said that wouldn’t be possible for a few days.  Through actual tears, and a mix of dejection, exhaustion, and frustration, she made her way back to Boca, trying to reconcile herself to these lost and irreplaceable items being truly gone.  


After a few hours, they had all but given up hope of recovering their things when they remembered it wasn’t only the carry-on that was lost, there was a hat box sitting on top of it that was also left behind.  As a last-ditch effort, a true longshot, they had an idea and asked two people they know from Miami to post in group chats asking if anyone saw the bag and box at the airport.  One of them, an educator, happened to be on a plane herself and had already put her phone away for takeoff. But when she got a call and took her phone out to answer it, she saw the text asking her to post about the lost bag and hat box.  


A moment later, she received another call, from one of her students whom she hadn’t spoken to in a year. The young lady had just returned from seminary in Israel.  They made small talk for a bit and she shared how she wasn’t supposed to come home for Pesach but last minute had arranged to return.  The woman asked her, it is great to hear from you but why are you calling? 


The young lady said, the very last thing I learned about in seminary before our Pesach break was the laws of hashavas aveida, the responsibility to return a lost object. I just came back from Israel and I found something, I figured I should take it so I could try to return it but I am not sure what to do now.  The woman’s ears perked up and she asked, what did you find?  The young lady said, I found a small suitcase and I figured it belongs to a Jewish person because there was a hat box on top of it.  The woman was stunned, she said, what did the suitcase look like and when the young lady described what she had found, it was a perfect match with the description in the text message.  She knew exactly whom it belonged to and within a few hours, my children had everything back. 


The hashgacha pratis, the Divine Providence in getting everything back, was tremendous.  A girl who hadn’t planned to come back from Israel was on the same flight and happened upon the bag. She just so happened to have learned something right before that inspired her to take it.  She happened to call the very same person that my daughter had texted.


As extraordinary as the guiding hand of Hashem was, there was another thought that overwhelmed me while thinking about the story’s happy conclusion.  A Jewish girl saw a hat box and immediately concluded, I have no idea to whom these things belong but I am sure we overlap in some way, I am confident I can find them.  If a Christian or Muslim saw someone leave a suitcase behind, if an Asian or African American saw someone leave a suitcase who looked like or practiced the same religion as them, would they grab it and say there is no question I will find a connection with the owner?


This is what it means to be part of Am Yisrael.  We are one people, one family, all interconnected and intertwined. Mi k’amcha Yisrael.  We are Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. Rav Soloveitchik teaches that the word am, nation, comes from the word im, together.  We are only an am, when we live with an attitude of im, togetherness and unity. 


In Russia in 1913, in what was known at the time as the “Trial of the Century,” Mendel Beilis was tried for murdering a Christian child to use his blood for Pesach. The lawyer representing him was concerned that the prosecutor might quote particular Torah teachings as evidence that Jews are supremacists who discriminate against other religions and therefore would commit murder against them.  One such teaching comes from Rav Shimon bar Yochai who says that only Jews are called “adam,” other nations are not.  The lawyer visited the Chortkover Rebbe to ask what to do if the prosecution quotes the teaching.


The Chortkover told him, “If the prosecutor brings it up, ask the court to consider what would happen if an Italian man would be arrested and tried in court. Would all other Italians congregate and pray for his safety?  What about if a Frenchman was on trial — would all of his countrymen interrupt their lives to pray for his safety, would they even follow his trial?”  The Chortkover continued, “The Jewish people are unique in this regard: one Jew is arrested and put on trial, and Jews around the world stop their lives and pray for his safety.”  Explained the Chortkover, “This is what Rav Shimon bar Yochai meant.  We have many words for person in Hebrew.  Ish and gever have plural forms but the word adam has no plural. Only the Jewish people are called adam because we are united, and we can be accurately be described as one person.”

We are currently in the period of mourning for the 24,000 students of Rebbe Akiva who were struck down in a pandemic that occurred during this time of year.  Our rabbis teach that the cause was she’lo nahagu kavod zeh ba’zeh, they didn’t treat each other with respect.  Indeed, many explain that is why the Talmud tells us about 12,000 pairs of students rather than tell us 24,000 students. They were not acting like pairs, connected, or bound together as one, but rather they took the posture of adversaries, competitors, and rivals.

Our mission and mandate, the key to transform this period of mourning into joy is to honor one another, to recognize our unique designation as adom, one united entity.  Only when we are im together, can we truly achieve am Yisroel Chai.