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My Israeli passport has run its course, all of its pages are full with the entry and exit stamps so lovingly applied at Ben Gurion airport, and therefore I am forced to obtain a new passport. In the process of applying for this new passport I took time to leaf through the pages of my previous passport. In so doing a flood of memories overcame me.
I remembered trips that I took, places that I visited, loved ones who accompanied me and projects undertaken that were fulfilled and unfulfilled. In short, an entire decade of my life flashed before my eyes and came to the forefront of my memory. I never previously thought of passports as being an emotional document but I found my review of the pages of my now full passport to be a deeply moving event.
Passports somehow serve as a review of one’s life and not merely of one’s travels. I have found it to be interesting that passports are a relatively recent creation of civilization. In previous times people traveled across national borders freely and without documentation, visas or governmental permission. In our current more advanced and civilized world such freedom of movement is completely unthinkable.
In the more dictatorial governments of our time even internal passports for travel within one’s own country was and still is required. In Israel today little can be accomplished without a teudat zehut, which is in reality a form of an internal passport control. Life has become more complicated and big brother nosier.
In the Torah we also read of such a memory-jogging passport. Our teacher Moshe, at the beginning of his final oration to the people of Israel, reviews with them the stops that the Jewish people made during their forty year sojourn in the Sinai Desert. Rashi points out that it is comparable to a father reviewing the past with his son – here you took ill, here we had problems, here we had this particular experience, etc.
Places and localities always occasion with them memories. A new generation arose that no longer had access in its own memory bank of the experiences of the desert. And thus Moshe, perforce, provides a passport for the Jewish people, so to speak, a memory document, long before the world required or created such information.
It is no exaggeration to state that the pages of the collective passport of the Jewish people are full – there are really no empty pages left to be stamped and recorded. We have been all over the world in our millennia-long exile. Knowing Jewish history, even in an elementary and rudimentary form, will provide one with an interesting national passport that can jog memory and concentrate vision. For without memory – national and personal memory – there can be no future vision and purposeful commitment to a better future. The old passport is the tool by which can obtain one’s new passport. Leafing through the smudged pages of the old passport will enlighten one as to the value and necessity of the unmarked new passport one is about to receive.   
I believe that entry to Heaven, so to speak, also requires a valid passport. In effect we renew that passport annually during the High Holy Days, the Days of Judgment and Mercy. The concept of a passport is therefore not really one of civil law and secular governmental control. It has, like everything else in human existence, a religious and Godly element to it. It is meant to remind us of where we have been, of what has happened to us, of our successes and disappointments and most importantly to remind us that we are all but travelers in this life of ours.
There is a wonderful Chasidic story about a famed scholar who came to a village and was invited by someone who he believed to be a pillar of the community to stay at his home. The scholar was shocked to see the ramshackle condition of the home, the meager food served and the straw covered floor that was to be his bed. He asked his host: “How can you live like this?” The man answered: “This is only my temporary home. I own a great palace with all luxuries but since I am traveling, as you are, I have to make do with this. My palace is in Heaven, my permanent home, but here we are all but travelers and as such, travelers have to make do with whatever accommodations are provided for us.” Passports remind us that we are all but travelers.
Shabat shalom

Berel Wein      

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