When someone's travelling to Israel it is customary to wish them a "Nesiyah Tovah." "Nesiyah Tovah" is the Hebrew equivalent of Bon Voyage. At its simplest level it means, "Have a good trip." But like most Hebrew phrases, there are resonances and meanings that get lost in translation. Here's what Nesiyah Tovah really means...
Nesiyah- Nesiyah doesn't really mean "trip." A better translation is "journey." Jewish people don't take trips to Israel, we go on journeys there. First we go on a journey to Israel. Then we go on a series of journeys while we're in Israel. There are vast differences between a trip and a journey. For example, trips don't really have heroes. But journeys do. Journeys have heroes because, unlike trips, they ask something of us. They present us with challenges and opportunities. They give us a chance to rise up to our fullest potential, to show what we're made of, to unlock parts of ourselves that we might not have known were there. It's possible to make great memories on a trip or a journey, but the memories that come from a journey end up reminding us of different and often more important things. A trip nourishes and replenishes you. A journey transforms you.
Tovah- Tovah, not surprisingly, is related to the Hebrew word "Tov." While the word "good" is a perfectly fine translation of "Tov" many of us don't fully appreciate what it means to call something "good." We associate "good" with other words like: pleasant, satisfactory, comfortable, nice, enjoyable, successful. But "good" and "Tov" actually have a more profound resonance than this.
To call something "Tov" or "good" is to say that it is as it should be. When God created the world, God called each act of creation "Tov" (except for human beings, which God called "Tov M'od"). "Tov" means, whole, healthy, right, and true. Something is "Tov" when it has integrity, when it is meaningful, when it is substantive, when it is nourishing and life-giving.
When we wish our kids a "Nesiyah Tovah" we aren't simply telling them to have a great time. We are conveying to them our deepest blessing as parents, grandparents, and caring community. We are telling them that we hope that their journey to Israel and their journeys in Israel transform them and help them discover who they really are as well as discover something larger than themselves to which they are connected. We are telling them that we want them to travel with integrity, with dignity, with love, with respect, with joy, with curiosity, and that we want them to discover something within themselves and in the world around them that is right, true, and good.