In a recent article, I noted how interesting it is when El Al security agents ask Jewish customers why they are flying to Israel, as if they need a reason.
As any El Al customer knows, that question is actually only one of a slew of questions Security asks: “Who is flying? What is the purpose of your trip? Where will you be staying? How do you know those people? What are their names? Who packed your bags? Where were your bags since they were packed? Has anyone given you anything to bring?”
A student told me that he was even asked what his bar mitzvah parshah was and was asked to recite the first pasuk from memory.
A friend of mine related that when he was going back to Eretz Yisrael for a second year in yeshivah, he felt he was already a veteran of the El Al system. When the security agent asked him who is flying and he stepped forward, he looked at her and said “no, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no.” She stared at him for a moment and then replied stoically, “That’s not funny.” And then she proceeded to ask him the whole litany of questions he had just preemptively answered.
A reader noted that it makes him very upset when El Al security agents ask if anyone gave you anything to take along!
Many people indeed have something. (Has a Jew ever come to Eretz Yisrael without bringing things for others?) But, if the passenger answers in the affirmative, security will follow up with numerous other questions and will likely order the passenger to unpack before them, or they may rummage through the baggage themselves. This undoubtedly causes many people to lie.
He added that El Al security personnel are well aware that most responses are untrue, but they want to see how the passenger will respond. I haven’t spoken to El Al personnel to understand their perspective, but I definitely hear the point.
However, I recently gained a new perspective on the irksome questioning that gives it a different and even exciting twist. In a sense, the El Al security questioning is preparing us for Mashiach! Allow me to explain.
Recently, I was listening to a lecture entitled, “Getting Ready for the Beis HaMikdash.” The lecturer described a scene in the not-too-distant future with a person excitedly setting out to visit the Beis HaMikdash.
He arrives at the Temple gates where he is met by a Levite guard. (S’forno in Parshas Korach writes that it is the responsibility of the Levite guards to ensure that no one impure enters the gates of the Beis HaMikdash.)
The Levite greets him and welcomes him to the Beis HaMikdash, and then asks him if he is ritually pure. The man replies that he went to the mikvah that morning. The Levite continues, “Since that time, have you made sure to remain pure and not come into contact with anyone or anything impure?” The man nods confidently.
The Levite then asks him to report on what he did before arriving at the Temple Mount. The man recounts everything he did and everywhere he went, and how vigilant he was to remain pure. As an aid, he notes that, on the way out of his house, he grabbed a garbage bag and placed it in the bin outside. The Levite asks him to describe the contents. The man recounts its contents from memory and mentions that there were disposable plastic cups in there from the family’s supper two nights earlier. The Levite looks up. “Didn’t your wife have a baby a week and a half ago?” The man nods. The Levite says, “One of those cups was used by your wife, and she is still ritually impure from childbirth. Her saliva (tum’as rok) generates impurity by anyone who carries it, and we must assume that some of her saliva remained on the cup (chazakah). That renders you impure until you go to the mikvah and then wait for sunset. I am sorry to inform you that you cannot proceed onto the Temple Mount.”
With that in mind, El Al security questions are actually preparing us for the spiritual security questions we will be asked prior to entering the Temple Mount. So now, when the El Al security guard starts asking you those vexing questions about your luggage, you can picture yourself standing outside the Beis HaMikdash, waiting and hoping to be allowed entry.
One of the less appreciated components of Purim is its direct connection to the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.
One of the first acts Achashveirosh did upon becoming king was ordering the immediate halting of the already begun process of rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash. The rebuilding had begun when the previous King Cyrus proclaimed that the Jews could return to Yerushalayim and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash.
Being the king of 127 states, Achashveirosh was fearful of any challenge to his authority or threats to his empire, as it could easily trigger more widespread rebellions. He was convinced that the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash would entail the Jews having independence in Eretz Yisrael. An independent country, right in the center of his empire, could have disastrous consequences. Therefore, Achashveirosh made it his mission to stop the rebuilding and the return of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael. It was also the source of his enmity towards the Jewish people.
At the massive party of Achashveirosh, he wore the Kohen Gadol’s exclusive garments and served wine and food in goblets and other vessels taken from the Beis HaMikdash. Part of his sinister, hidden intention in doing so was to demonstrate to the Jewish attendees that he was their new kohen gadol and his palace was their new Beis HaMikdash. He wanted them to forget Yerushalayim and become like everyone else, so he could feel more secure about the cohesion of his empire.
His preoccupation, and practical obsession, with not allowing the Beis HaMikdash to be rebuilt is clear later in the Megillah, as well. When Esther appears before him uninvited, and he has no idea what she wants, he tells her that he will grant her up to half of the kingdom. The Gemara explains that “half of the kingdom” is a coded reference to that which halves his kingdom, i.e., Yerushalayim and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. It must be realized that, at that point, Achashveirosh had absolutely no idea that Esther was Jewish. Yet he emphasized that rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash wasn’t negotiable.
In various places in the Megillah, there are references and allusions to the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara records that the names of the seven ministers of the king hint to different parts of the avodah performed in the Beis HaMikdash. When Haman arrives to lead Mordechai through the streets of Shushan, he asks Mordechai what he had been studying. Mordechai replies that they were learning the laws of the Omer offering, which would have been brought in the Beis HaMikdash that day.
Very shortly after the Purim story occurred, Achashveirosh died and was succeeded by his and Esther’s son Daryavesh (Darius). Daryavesh allowed the completion of the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.
At the time of the Purim miracle, we achieved renewed feelings of national unity, and loving reacceptance of Torah and its values. It’s no wonder that the Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt shortly after.
As we again celebrate this joyous and beloved holiday, we anticipate the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and the coming of Mashiach.
When that happens, El Al security will not ask how long we are going for. They will all know that it’s a one-way ticket. At that point, the only security questions we will have to answer are to the spiritual security personnel at the gates of the Beis HaMikdash.
See you there.