Unfortunately, we have become far too knowledgeable in Israel about terrorist attacks and kidnappings.
Every occasion is shocking, painful and heartbreaking. Yet oftentimes they take place in some other part of the country, providing a false sense of safety and distance. This time, however, it has happened right in front of us, affecting us very differently.
For several days, I have felt psychologically paralyzed, barely able to accomplish routine matters. Ofir and Bat- Galim Shaer have been close friends of mine for years, from the days when their son, Gil-Ad, and our eldest daughter attended pre-school together. In addition, Racheli Frankel is an active member of Beit Hillel. Just two weeks ago, we were all together participating in Beit Hillel’s fascinating Public Council conference in the North.
I debated whether to even write this essay, not quite able to find the words to communicate the thoughts in my heart. But after visiting the Shaer family, I realized that I cannot remain silent. While this sounds like a cliche, it’s actually true. I went to their home to strengthen them, but I left feeling that they had strengthened me.
Our Sages have compared the Jewish People to chestnuts.
On the verse (Shir Hashirim 6:11) “I went down to the chestnut garden... ,” they commented, “Just as when you take one chestnut from a sack, all the others fall and roll one after the other, so, too, when one Jew is afflicted, we all feel it” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah, 6:26).
In the current context, this midrash is chilling. The kidnapping of the three boys has all of Israel paralyzed, worried and deeply pained. There is no other place in the world – not in the US, Europe or any other country – in which this kind of solidarity could take place. The remarkable notion that “all Jewish people are responsible for each other” seems to be in the genetic composition of the Jews. This is the feeling I felt at the home of the Shaer family. This is not merely a personal tragedy, but a tragedy for the entire Jewish People.
The families of the abducted were chosen against their will to be the center of a national trauma. And the way in which they have conducted themselves, with emotional resilience and strong faith, is superhuman. Being in their home, I felt that in this situation, there is something important taking place, beyond our own normal capabilities and understanding.
Evidence of this is in the many spontaneous prayer rallies, in which hundreds of thousands have participated all over Israel and the world. This has given strength and encouragement to the families, who do not have to bear this burden of prayer and pleas for mercy to God all alone. These worldwide Jewish prayer rallies and other acts of kindness and solidarity reinforce the sense that this trauma involves all of the Jewish People collectively.
This idea of collective action should be our intent regarding all of our prayers and actions on behalf of the kidnapped kids. In addition to praying for the boys in captivity, we should also pray for the entire Jewish People.
Collective prayer has a completely different value from the prayers of an individual, as Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuva (2:6): “...anytime that a community comes together to do teshuva [repentance], and cries out to God whole-heartedly, they are answered, as it says [Deuteronomy 4:7], ‘Who is comparable to Hashem our God, who responds whenever we call upon Him?’” Collective prayer has a special power to open the Gates of Heaven and rip up a negative decree.
In collective prayer, the shliach tzibur (a congregation’s prayer leader) can help those in the community to fulfill their obligation to pray, as long as the beneficiaries are mindful of it. These precious families have been chosen to serve as our shlichei tzibur. And in our prayers, we should feel that our children are the ones who have been abducted, that Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal are our sons.
We pray not only for them, but for ourselves. The Jewish People, as a collective, is praying for its life and fate. We are in a situation akin to a collective Yom Kippur prayer: our shlichei tzibur are those families, leading Israeli society with strength and a powerful belief audible through throats choked with tears.
This is what I felt at the home of the Shaer family, people who always shied away from the limelight, and quietly contributed to the Jewish People peacefully and humbly.
This was the feeling of all of the Jewish People as we watched the interviews of the families with the media, which left reporters and analysts stunned by the spiritual strength of the Frankel, Shaer and Yifrach families.
As we have said, this trauma is not just for these three families to bear; it belongs to all of us. It is a rallying call for Israeli society: every one of us is being called upon to act to find ways to help the families through this arduous journey.
It is upon each of us to “enlist” in the national effort, to increase the good and the light on behalf of the families, on behalf of the kidnapped boys, and on behalf of all of the Jewish People. This might take the form of prayer, crying out to Heaven, acts of hessed (kindness), helping each other and increasing ahavat hinam, baseless love. This is not a time for sectarianism, parochialism and divisiveness, but rather a time of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood.
Hashem, please return our boys to their homes immediately.
“A broken and contrite heart, God, do not reject!” (Tehillim 51:19).
Please consider the broken hearts of the families who you appointed to serve as involuntary shlichei tzibur.
They are doing their part in full faith, neither questioning nor doubting you.
Please see the solidarity and ahavat hinam that exists among the Jewish People.
Please hear the prayers of all of the Jewish People, protect Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal, and bring them home immediately, as it is written, “...and the children shall return to their home” (Jeremiah 31:16), and “...sorrow and sighing will flee” (Isaiah 35:10).