We reached a new milestone in parenting this week when our oldest child, Shalom, departed for Eretz Yisrael for the year to learn in yeshivah. On Sunday, the day of his flight, we came in from camp to Monsey to take care of all the last-minute things.
On Sunday night, Shalom and I headed out for JFK International Airport with plenty of time to spare. According to Waze, the trip would take us under an hour and a half. We were cruising along until we reached the George Washington Bridge and encountered heavy traffic. At that point, Waze suggested that, instead of proceeding into the traffic going directly onto the bridge, we go through the nearby streets of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for an alternate entrance onto the bridge. Big mistake! After crawling along at a snail’s pace on the streets of Fort Lee, the police blocked entry to the bridge, and we had to go all the way around. And then traffic stopped moving altogether. I watched in a panic as the destination time on Waze kept getting later and later. I had images in my head of returning to camp with Shalom, having missed his flight. Shalom and I said some T’hilim together and tried to keep each other calm. After a grueling while, we finally made it onto the bridge and across. Thankfully (and somewhat miraculously), from there the trip was relatively smooth and Shalom was able to make his flight.
A friend informed me about an app called Flightradar24, which allows you to track every flight in the world. I entered the number to Shalom’s flight and was able to follow the exact location, speed, and altitude of his plane. In addition, it showed the plane’s route until that point, as well as the plane’s projected trajectory.
I was aware that planes do not fly in a straight line across the globe, but rather fly in an arc shape. But I had never seen it so acutely. Before I went to sleep on Sunday evening, I saw that Shalom’s plane had traveled very far north, adjacent to the northern edge of Canada. Then, when I awoke the next morning, I saw that the plane was heading south past the tip of Great Britain, before continuing over Switzerland, Italy, and over the Mediterranean, until it finally landed in Tel Aviv.
Planes travel in an arc because that is really the shortest route. The earth has a spherical shape and, therefore, the circumference of the Earth is far longer around the equator than it is as one moves closer to the north and south poles.
Another important reason why planes fly in what appears to be a more indirect route has to do with jet streams. Jet streams can sometimes have tailwinds above 200 miles per hour. If a plane flies along a jet stream, it will be able to burn far less fuel and arrive at its destination more quickly.
Flight paths are mapped out before aircraft take off, to calculate the shortest and most efficient route. At times, flight paths can change during the flight, depending on weather, wind, jet streams, and other factors.
This all got me thinking about the other more important component of Shalom’s trip. The reason he went to learn in Yerushalayim was for his growth in his spiritual journey, which is fueled by his physical journey to the Holy City. He set out on that journey on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the same day that every Jew commences that annual journey.
We spend most of our lives gazing and trying to move outwards, trying to expand our assets, garnering more accomplishments and prestige, and achieving financial success. But during the month of Elul, we try to look and direct ourselves inward, taking spiritual stock of ourselves and ascertaining if we are being true to our own aspirations and potential.
Although the t’shuvah process is not limited to this time of year, during Elul there is a “Jetstream” that fuels our efforts and helps us move in that direction. If we are willing to invest the effort to take off and fly towards that “Jetstream,” it will help propel us forward to reach our personal destinations, burning less fuel and in less time.
The other equally important idea to remember is that the path towards growth and accomplishment doesn’t follow a straight line. In fact, there isn’t one uniform path to follow. Each of us has our own arc, our own journey, and our own process to arrive at our charted and coveted destination. It doesn’t follow a neat and even straight line. There are inevitable curves and turns, and we must have patience for them.
Throughout the year, we try to drive forward. We encounter much traffic – internal as well as external impediments that impede our growth. But during the great days of Elul and Tishrei, we seek to achieve liftoff. From that spiritual altitude we soar above the mundane traffic below, in order to achieve greater heights than we can when we are crawling ahead on the ground.
Have a safe and beautiful journey!