I was taking a journey many of you have taken. A quick, simple 5 hour flight from Israel to England. The only thing was that this time it was not quick or simple and it was a trip that I will never forget.
On Thursday August 6th my family and I were on the Jet2 plane that made an emergency landing in Budapest after a cabin pressure problem.
Words literally can't describe what we all went through on that plane as we plummeted down and were told to prepare ourselves for an emergency landing as the oxygen masks fell. Passengers of all religious levels were fervently saying the Shema as we envisioned crashing into the sea never to be seen again. I finished reciting the short viduy prayer (a prayer of teshuva, repentance) that one says on anticipation of death and I looked over at my young family who were scared and confused. My wife and I were able to share a moment to focus on what we were expecting to happen and we reflected on life and its purpose and that everything is the will of G’d, and that He knows what is best and we are no one to judge Him based on our limited and imperfect minds. Of course we prayed in those moments to be saved but we acknowledged that the Creator of the world is completely in charge and although we had to do our bit, ultimately He runs the show.
Those precious moments of sensing death and really feeling remorseful I hope will never leave me. I know that this may seem strange. So may the fact that after this whole experience and being safe on the ground we wouldn’t trade this experience at all. This is simply because we received a gift on that aeroplane, a moment of clarity; A moment of focus on who we really are, what we are achieving and particularly what we are doing wrong.
Thinking about it now it reflected for me the neilah prayer, in the final moments of Yom Kippur – a last ditch effort to win life in that year, but this was a last ditch effort to win life in the next few minutes.
Thank G’d we made it safely to the ground in Budapest but as anyone should do, my family and I left the plane different people.
Miraculously saved, we were told by the air steward that as a great ‘coincidence’ we had experienced unrelated turbulence minutes before we lost cabin pressure, and even though we should have been at 39,000 feet we were significantly lower due to the turbulence. The steward told us that if we were at the 39,000 feet as we should have been, things may very well have been a different story!
As soon as we exited the plane many of us made up a minyan for Maariv and thanked Hashem for saving our lives with tears streaming down our faces. We felt incredible emotion as we recited the Shema that only minutes ago we said in a very different context. With new commitments and a new lease of life our Shema felt like it took an eternity, mixed with the realization of what had just occurred and gratitude to Hashem, I have never experienced a more powerful minyan as we all spoke to G’d in a personal way and thanked Him for returning our lives and that of our families’.
So after our ordeal it is easy for us to have grown and changed because we faced death and got an honest insight into where we were holding in life and what we needed to change, but what about you? After reading this is it right to say ‘it didn’t happen to me so what should I do?!’
I am reminded of a true story that happened with Rav Yechetzkel Levenstein.
He was in a taxi in israel and the secular taxi driver turned to him and said,
"You know, I have a very religious best friend. He wasn’t always religious, in fact we were army buddies and he was as irreligious as me. After the army as most of us did then, we went off to India to have some fun and
we went camping in the jungle there. In the middle of the night we all woke up to hear muffled screams and we saw our friend with a huge
boa constrictor around his neck squeezing tighter and tighter. Of course we screamed at the snake and hit it with sticks but it was just going
tighter around his neck. Nothing we were doing was helping and our friend was quickly losing consciousness. With nothing else we could do one of us shouted to him "say shema yisrael" – so with his last ounce of strength our friend said shema yisrael and all of a sudden the snake unloosened his grip and crawled away. It was a miracle!! - So now our friend wears a hat with a religious wife and kids in yeshivas."
"That's a great story" the Rav exclaimed "but why are you not more religious after witnessing all this?"
"well" said the taxi driver " the miracle didn’t happen to me!"
Even if we personally were not the ones being the subject of this miracle, we can use other’s experiences to grow closer to G’d and take time to reflect on our direction in life.
I was fortunate enough to be forced to reflect heavily on my life, I wish that it didn’t need such a scare for this to happen but I am grateful for the end result. We shouldn’t need these scares to coerce us to see the real us, it should be achieved on a regular basis. The beauty of Shabbos for instance is that we get a chance to reflect on the week that has passed and plan for the week ahead. At whatever level we keep Shabbos, if we can appreciate it as being a time of introspection and reflection on our lives, perhaps this could take the place of a more drastic scare.
Anything can happen anywhere to anyone at anytime – now is the time to make an accounting of where you are heading for who knows what tomorrow will bring.
My miracle helped me – I hope that it can help you too!
--- To see a more graphic version of what took place on the flight please read my wife's excellent article on aish.com http://www.aish.com/f/hotm/53328897.html