It’s just a just time before takeoff, friends have dropped off packages of gifts for their loved ones. We wondered how we were going to fit them all into our bulging suitcases. Before we knew it the car service driver was beeping. We quickly stuffed our cases closed and hoped the zippers would hold out. At the airport, bags in tow we followed an interminable line weaving towards the ticket counter. Upon reaching what was to be the first of many checkpoints the flight security attendant said with a polite, but serious smile: “How are you today”? Passports and tickets please! Where are going? Is this your first trip there? Where will you be staying? Do you have any relatives there? Oh yes, who? Where do they live? ” He made light conversation but all the while his eyes were locked on ours without a flicker. They felt like x-rays and we got flustered. Somehow we even hesitated over the names of the places are relatives lived.
As the grilling continued all that was needed was a strong white light focused in our eyes to turn it into a full blown interrogation. “Tell me, did any one pack your bags for you? Do you have any electronic equipment inside your bags? Where did you get it? Did you take it from a shelf of the store by yourself or did someone give it to you? Was the package torn? Did anyone give you anything?”
After the initial screening the security officer directed us over to yet another line to have our suitcases ex-rayed in what looked like a giant MRI machine. After our bags came out unscathed with a negative diagnosis, we proceeded to the check in counter. As we struggled to lift our suitcases onto the scales, they seemed to feel quite a bit heavier than they did at home – maybe it’s the gravity at the airport we chuckled. Miraculously the employee did not impose a fine for being overweight and with a sigh of relief we set off to scale our next hurdle.
Moving further along the assembly line we were required to place outer garments, hand bags and all metal possessions on a rolling conveyer belt which passed them through another x-ray machine. Now, hatless, shoeless, jacketless, feeling slightly vulnerable and somewhat intimidated, we walk through the metal archway, which will determine whether we will be “pat searched”. We fortunately passed with good marks but we couldn’t help but notice another frum passenger who was sent to the side for a full blown pat down. Admirably he never lost his pleasant smile as he chatted cordially with the officer, adding after he was exonerated his appreciation for the fine work that the security personal provided. This was a real Kiddush Hashem that both we and that guard will never forget.
Since everything that exists in the world is founded in the Torah, where can we find a Torah source for the interrogation and search of travelers? Yes. The first such search was conducted by Lavan – Jacob’s father-in-law. When Lavan saw that (Ya’akov) Jacob has taken his family and left , he chased after them, bombarded them with a barrage of questions and then, unsatisfied with the answers, made his own intrusive and thorough search of their possessions – (Parshas Vayeitzei). Some years later, the sons of Ya’akov are subjected to an interrogation and search at the hands of the second most powerful man in all of Egypt, not realizing at the time that that imposing personage was none other than their brother (Yosef). (Parshas Mikeitz).
What lesson could we possibly learn from these two similar events? Perhaps the key lies in the intentions of the searchers even more than the search itself. Lavan is the prototype of a clever swindler whose expertise lies in appearing to be superficially (lavan) pure even while his intentions were self-serving and even nefarious. We of course should do our best to steer clear of such people but when unavoidable we should always make the best out of the situation as our forefather Ya’akov did in the house of Lavan.
Of course when well intended loving relatives, true friends and dedicated people “question” our intentions and “search” into our motivations, like Yosef had done with his brothers, we should not resent but actually cherish their words and actions. Now also before Pesach, while we are checking very closely our homes and possessions, let us also check (bodek) every “nock and cranny” of our attitudes for any “leavened” behavior that has become “chumatz or saor”. This vital search and removal mission is one of the hallmarks of the Pesach transformation that helps free us from the bondage of corporeal constraints and limitations thereby allowing us to travel vertically up the Pesach “ladder”.