Chag HaPesach Kasher Vesameach

Thursday, 14 April, 2022 - 4:59 pm

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Hashem sent me a few lessons about freedom and liberation during my trip to USA via Israel.

I must admit that I felt quite foolish.

After standing for 90 minutes in a line that inched along to the El Al ticket counter I hurriedly proceeded to the boarding gate. I glanced down at my boarding pass and saw the letters ‘GL’ followed by my El Al mileage number.

I sent a WhatsApp to my travel agent asking him whether I understood correctly that this meant I was a gold member of the El Al Matmid mileage program. He confirmed to me that yes, I was.

It dawned on me. Almost three years ago, before covid began, I had a few back-to-back trips to Israel that earned me the ‘gold’ status on El Al. It’s been so long since I traveled that it never dawned on me that I had this status. Apparently however, the status was preserved.

This means that I could have checked in at the business class check-in counter and avoided the long lines. Not to mention the access to the King David lounge which is well stocked with kosher food and drink.

The oversight on my part was so ridiculous that I chuckled to myself. But I was wondering, what lesson could I learn from the experience.

I had a flashback. To the summer of 1991 one of the highlights of my life. I was the head counselor of the main Chabad Gan Yisrael boy’s camp. It was the last day of camp and the entire camp had traveled from the Catskill mountains to 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. The Rebbe would address the children after praying Mincha with them. After that they would be dismissed and go home with their parents who would pick them up. Before the Rebbe would enter the Shul for prayers, the head counselor – in this case yours truly – would give a short inspirational speech.

This is the story I told:*

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Vladimir, an illiterate and unworldly Siberian peasant, struck it rich. One day he was offered a very lucrative business proposition. Closing the deal, however, required his presence in Moscow.

Moscow. He was pretty sure that a horse—even the sturdiest his village had to offer—would not be able to make the trip of several thousand kilometers . . . Some of the more sophisticated residents of the town came to his rescue, advising him about the existence of a new mode of transportation, a “train.” If he were to travel to Novosibirsk, the closest large city, he would be able to catch a train to Moscow.

Thus, one fine day found Vladimir in the central train station of Novosibirsk. When he informed the lady behind the ticket counter of his intended destination, she asked him what sort of ticket he wished to purchase. Observing his confusion, she told him that he could purchase a first-, second- or third-class ticket. A third-class ticket, she explained, offered absolutely no amenities, and didn’t even guarantee a spot on the train. If the arriving train was already filled to capacity, he would have to wait for the next one. A second-class ticket offered a greater chance of a spot on the train, along with more comfortable accommodations. A first-class ticket came with a guaranteed seat, and all amenities necessary to ensure a luxurious and comfortable journey.

Money was hardly an issue, so first class it would be. The ticket lady explained to her consumer that the ticket was non-refundable, and should be guarded carefully. Vladimir heeded her advice, and tucked his ticket beneath the many layers of clothing he was wearing.

As it turned out, the train would not arrive for another few days. Vladimir noted the date and time of its anticipated arrival, arranged for lodgings in the interim, and arrived back at the station two hours early, since this was his first time attempting such a journey. He decided to just follow the flow, assuming that he would be fine as long as he copied exactly what his fellow travelers were doing.

The train arrived. After his initial shock at seeing such a monstrously large caravan of cars, Vladimir regained his composure and scanned the terminal to see what to do. As it was early, most of the passengers had not yet arrived, but he noticed three passengers boarding the very last car on the train. He followed them into the car, and when each one climbed beneath one of the benches in the car, he did the same. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fully familiar with proper stowaway protocol, and his feet jutted out across the aisle of the third-class car.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t fully familiar with proper stowaway protocol

It was dark and lonely beneath the bench, and Vladimir quickly dozed off. He didn’t feel the train start to move, and didn’t hear the conductor entering the car. He did, however, feel a sharp kick to his shins, and the startled peasant was expertly hoisted out by the burly conductor.

“You moron, you think this is a free ride?” he bellowed. “You need a ticket to ride this train!”

“What’s the problem, sir,” Vladimir meekly responded. “I have a ticket.”

The other travelers on the train car burst out laughing at this ludicrous claim. Their laughter only intensified when he started peeling off layer after layer of clothing, starting with his expensive fur coat and ending with his undergarments. But, much to their astonishment, he pulled out a ticket—a first-class ticket, no less!

After verifying that the ticket was indeed authentic, the conductor, in a distinctly humbled tone of voice, asked the obvious: “Sir, you have an expensive first-class ticket; pray tell me why you are lying under a bench in the third-class car?!”

“Because that’s what the others were doing . . .” was the embarrassed response.

Boys, I concluded, you have spent eight weeks in camp, and you recognize how at Mount Sinai we were given a first class ticket. One day, the Conductor will want to know whether we used it or not. Certainly, it does not behoove us to just follow what ‘others are doing’. Rather we have the blessing to conduct ourselves as befitting ‘first class’ passengers.

Standing there about to board my flight, with a forgotten GL status in hand, after standing for nearly two hours in a queue, I realized that Hashem was reminding me of this story.

Liberation is available to us. We have the ‘Liberated status’. But we need to remember that we are liberated. On Pessach Hashem gives us the gift of Liberation. This is why we have a seder talking about the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, we eat matzah and drink four cups of wine and thus we remember and become aware that we are liberated and free ever since then. This liberation and freedom can never be taken from us.

Click here for an essay on how you can be free even when you are technically imprisoned.

The second lesson I got was when earlier this week I grazed my car with a NYPD school safety department car coming of the Belt Parkway. It was a minor dent to my car and barely a scratch on the NYPD car.

I knew that it was a blessing from Heaven, as I was coming from dropping my parents off at the airport which is a Mitzvah that is very special and I was on my way to the Ohel of the Rebbe to pray. If I had an accident between this great mitzvah and visiting this holy place, it must be a blessed accident. And indeed, thank G-d, no one was hurt. But it did take about 90 minutes till Seargent Pellegrino came and wrote the appropriate report. I asked if we couldn’t just agree that it was nothing and was told that since it was a government vehicle, a report needed to be written and it was forbidden for me to leave the site of the accident till that time.

I was imprisoned in some sense. I couldn’t carry on with my schedule as planned. And I had a minute-to-minute schedule of important meetings for that last day in New York. That was now not to be.

But I felt wonderfully liberated. I used my phone to make calls to the people I wanted to visit but now would not have time to visit. They were wonderful calls as I was at ease and without the pressure of time constraints. I could even dance. Although I chose not to do a jovial noisy dance (see the below humor section) I certainly hummed a joyous melody and tapped my feet in the brisk sunny spring air. Liberation is a state of being, I reminded myself.

The third instance took place earlier this morning.

I landed in Bangkok and was taken by the hotel for the rapid Covid test on the way to checking in to the hotel. After about three hours, my son Mendel came over to pick up our luggage. They let him up to the room. I thought that this was a concession that he had managed to negotiate from the hotel staff. A half hour later, after calling down to the reception to find out if our test results had come back yet, I was told that about half an hour ago they had received the results but forgotten to tell me.

I was free to go but I didn’t know. (that even rhymes 😊 )

An example of how you can be essentially and existentially liberated but because of distractions and desensitizing decadent practices, be totally unaware of it.

This Passover, make sure to ingest the ‘Food of Faith’ = Matzah Shmurah. Drink four cups of wine = the taste of liberation and spend time listening to the questions of your child and explaining to him the gift that G-d gave us of redemption from Egypt and gifting us the Torah of Truth and Life.

Celebrate your liberation. Be aware of it. Delight in it. Savor it. And LIVE A LIBERATED LIFE. There is no freedom, like living a life consistent with G-d’s Torah and Mitzvahs.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach


Rabbi Yosef Kantor

*story as written on


Watch a moment of wisdom about Pesach 👇👇👇






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