In the darkest recesses of his heart, Rabbi Ohad Teharlev had always feared the premature death of his son Elchai, the middle child of seven siblings.
At times “when I drove alone, I would cry,” said Ohad, as he sat Friday in his living room mourning Elchai, a 20-year-old soldier who was killed just one day earlier in a car ramming terrorist attack as he guarded a bus stop on Route 60 outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra.
The nightmarish thought had been with him from the time of Elchai’s circumcision, said Ohad. There was something in the way the infant fought and would not hold still for the ceremony, “as if he understood what was about to happen,” he continued.
Watching him during the ceremony, Ohad had a sudden vision of the biblical story of the sacrifice of Issac.
IDF soldier killed in Ofra Junction ramming attack (credit: REUTERS)
As the years passed, he tried to dismiss the premonition, not wanting it to become prophecy, “but the feeling existed,” he said, breaking into tears. “I prayed to God it would not happen, that I would not be in this situation.”
Ohad sat beside his wife Avital as they spoke of their son with the hundreds of mourners who streamed through their living room, spilling out into the front and side yards of their home in the West Bank settlement of Talmon.
They spoke of a young man who smiled often and loved music, hiking, writing, art and coffee.
On the table in front of them lay a book they had made for Elchai’s bar mitzva, including his drawings and writings.
Watching one mourner flip through the pages, Ohad remarked that his son went through many stages in his life, “the sweet stage, the mischievous one.”
He was very imaginative and liked to dress up as villainous characters, each one worse than the next, he added.
He was so talented, he could have been anyone, including IDF chief of staff, said Ohad, a well-known rabbi and advocate of service in the army, including religious women. Ohad heads the Israeli program at the Lindenbaum Seminary.
Just two weeks ago, while meeting with the IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot along with a group of rabbis, Ohad had a sudden vision of his son in that role in the future. “He could have done anything.”
The last time Ohad saw his son was last Monday night, when he returned home after a couple days of vacation before returning to the army.
“I was sitting in the kitchen when he came in. I saw something in his eyes and his look, a certain secret. Now I understand what that look meant,” said Ohad.
This Passover would have marked the first time that Elchai would have been apart from his family for the Seder because he had not been given leave for the holiday.
Initially, the family had explored the idea of finding a way to be in Ofra for the first day of Passover so they could be with him, but the conversation returned numerous times to the sacrifice of Issac.
But some of the details between the two stories are different, said Elchai’s mother, Avital. Her son had entered the army knowing he could lose his life, she explained.
She described her son’s final moments in Ofra, where he had been stationed.
He was guarding the bus stop outside the settlement and had left briefly and just returned with coffee and a croissant for other soldiers at the stop when he was struck from behind by a car driven by a Palestinian terrorist.
“He died immediately without knowing he had died,” said Avital, adding that she assumed he had not felt any pain.
“We hope he didn’t,” Ohad added.
He linked his son’s story with Passover and the story of the exodus from Egypt as it is told in the Haggada.
“How do you tell the story – it is not just what you say, but what you do not say,” he said.
Among the unsaid parts of the narrative, one that is only hinted at is the tragic sale of Joseph by his brothers, the result of which brought the Jews into Egypt.
“It’s difficult to talk about this. On a certain level, you sacrifice Joseph,” said Ohad. “There is always a child who is sacrificed.”
“We have a boy who was sacrificed, and the question is how to tell his story,” said Ohad. “[His death] has left a void in our hearts. We have to be careful not to remain in that void.”