by Rabbi Berel Wein
I am certain that all of you will agree with me that one of the lesser joys of travel is packing one’s suitcases before embarking on that adventure. I am not a neat packer since I have long noticed how the baggage handlers throw everything about in any case. And having had my luggage opened a few times by nosy security agents and their customs cohorts I find that an overly neat suitcase somehow engenders suspicion and a more thorough than necessary inspection procedure.
Like most present day travelers I have two suitcases that accompany me on my journey. One is the large and main piece of baggage that is checked through on the flight, hopefully to arrive on the baggage carousel when I arrive at my chosen destination. The other is the ubiquitous piece of hand luggage that accompanies me into the cabin of the plane.
The presence of these two different pieces of luggage that are to accompany me on the journey presents myriad packing choices. What should be put into the hand luggage and what can safely be entrusted to the tender mercies of the baggage handlers and ensconced in the belly of the plane, out of sight but never out of one’s concerned mind?
It presents the packer with the basic question of life itself. What are one’s priorities? What does one feel that one cannot do without and what does one consider important but somehow replaceable and even riskable? These are very important life questions and are not merely restricted to packing one’s luggage for a trip.
Naturally, my documents – passports, wallet, credit cards, check book, etc. – are all to be safely placed in my hand luggage. They are after all my identity papers. One change of shirts and other clothing is also included in my hand luggage. But not more for after all how many shirts does one really need?
I have quite a number of shirts in my drawer that I have not worn for years. I really did not need those shirts when I impulsively bought them, but they were on sale. My talit and tefilin, chumash and siddur, naturally are in my hand luggage, even though I have already recited the shacharit prayers before I left for the airport.
I also packed the books that I need for the lectures that I am to deliver at my destination as well as my notes and written ideas for those lectures. And I also take my drugstore of medicines with me because I have promised my doctors to faithfully follow their instructions though I am generally dubious of the efficacy of many of the pills that I nevertheless ingest daily.
Naturally my toiletries also accompany me. The Torah is a stickler for personal hygiene. The small gifts that I have for my great grandchildren are also entrusted to my hand luggage. My grandchildren have graduated to being included in my checkbook while my children are now completely out of the picture. Surveying my hand luggage I feel that I have everything necessary packed there. The rest of my belongings – the “real stuff”- that is not truly so “real” is in my big suitcase and will be checked on the plane.
Packing suitcases for a trip makes one face up to one’s priorities in life. What is really important and necessary to accompany one’s self on life’s trip? Prayer, mitzvoth, Torah study and dissemination, generations, family, a true sense of personal identity and self-worth are certainly necessary companions for a successful Jewish trip through life.
If one possesses the gift of good health as well, added to the above list, then what else does one really need to take along for the journey? There are other things that are naturally desirable and sometimes even very important but they are usually replaceable and even disposable. So they can be put our big suitcases and checked through till our final destination.
We can accept the risk of their somehow not making it to the end point of our journey, frustrating and troubling as that may be for us. The rabbis in Avot taught us that on our final journey our carry-on luggage will contain only the Torah study, support and observance and good deeds that we packed into that suitcase during our sojourn here on earth. Thus we are told clearly what our priorities in life should be.
Many times the “important” things turn out to be not as important as we once thought. I really don’t enjoy packing but I do enjoy being packed and ready to go on further in life’s journey.