Pesach has meant a lot of things for me over the years, but most of all, it meant adventure. No school. No regular routine. Lots of opportunity to go new places, meet new people and really live:
Ping pong tournaments.
Six Flags roller coasters.
All-you-can-eat tea rooms.
Traveling to far flung cities (aka, outside the New York Metropolitan area).
Adventure was always out there, with multitudes of ways to break outside my comfort zone. After all, it was just beyond that zone where the dreams I couldn’t even dream of could come true.
Last Pesach, the Adventure Factor quadrupled. At that point, I had made Aliyah, finished Ulpan, started a new job, was building new friendships, investing in already existing ones… life was just beginning to take root. And that’s when I realized, despite having plenty of adventures ahead of and behind me, I didn’t have the people that created the comfort that I needed to step outside my comfort zone.
Because those ping pong tournaments were plays every year at the same neighbors the neighbors.
And most of the time at Six Flags was spent on line with my school friends, and their friends from their communities and camp.
The all-you-can-eat tea rooms were full of new people, but it’s also where my friend and I would go to have late-night conversations, catching up, reflecting on life and how fast it goes.
Those “far flung” cities that I went to were always home to close family friends, people who’d known me my whole life.
And that’s when I learned, though we say life is about the journey, the most meaningful ones aren’t unending conveyor belts of novel experience. The best ones lead us home.
Academic mythologist Joseph Campbell spent his career devoted to what he calls The Hero’s Journey. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you already know what it is. It’s The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Moses and the Egyptian exile and much more.
Here’s how it goes: A regular, ordinary person is beckoned to go on a journey, to make a difference in his or her world, and though he refuses at first, eventually he accepts the call to adventure. There are challenges along the way – victories, fun times, and friends too – and sure enough, over time, after battling the ultimate nemesis. Then, he returns home, but this time wiser than before.
For years, I thought the adventure was the point: the journey to Middle Earth, following the Yellow Brick Road, marching out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land…but now, the point looks a lot more like family, coming back to what already was, but a little bit wiser and a lot more grateful.
Israel is a gift and an adventure, but so is being able to be with the people who’ve loved us every step of the way. There’s no doubt that a meaningful life requires us to step away and outside our comfort zone, and when ultimately, it brings us back to our deepest roots – our lineage and heritage, our people, our family – there’s no greater feeling.