My father, Rabbi Moshe Weiss, who lives in Jerusalem, is 95 years old. I’ve never seen or heard him cry uncontrollably – until last month. Speaking just moments after the news was released on June 30 that the three kidnapped Israeli boys, Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel, were dead. He sobbed. Over and over, he cried out, “They killed the boys, they killed the boys.”
There are no words that can properly reflect what we are all feeling. But as we move forward, I offer some reflections, dealing with the challenge of what we can do now – humble suggestions, as I am the first to acknowledge that I do not have any real answers.
1) Continue to remember the families: The Yifrah, Shaer and Fraenkel families have comported themselves with great nobility. During these days they have been surrounded by thousands of people expressing their sympathy.
But the hardest part of shiva is when shiva ends. It’s therefore important that we continue to be with the families. And so, as a small gesture, there will be three large cards in the lobby of our synagogue addressed to each of the families. I encourage families, including children, to come in and write words on them that come from the heart. My wife, Toby, and I will personally deliver the cards when we visit Israel in a few weeks. I urge every synagogue and Jewish institution to consider doing the same.
2) Remember the role of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces): In the search for the boys, thousands of soldiers put their lives on the line. Never should we forget that when the IDF tried unsuccessfully to save the kidnapped soldier Nachshon Wachsman 20 years ago, not only was Nachshon killed, but the leader of the commando raid, Nir Poraz, also lost his life.
At this challenging time, each of us can make a difference by doing something for the IDF. We can contribute to Friends of the IDF, recite prayers for them daily and we can commit to calling a soldier that we know, a relative, a friend or especially a chayal boded, a soldier who serves even as their family lives abroad. Special honor should be given to young men and women from America and around the world who have committed themselves to serve in the IDF or in Israel’s National Service.
3) Maintain a sense of ahdut yisrael (unity of Israel): During these past weeks, we felt especially close to each other. Across the political and religious spectrum, we lived and breathed as one people. The families of the slain boys led the way. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who is more to the Left, was invited to speak at Gil-Ad’s funeral.
Rabbis responded respectfully to Rachel Fraenkel as she joined the fathers in reciting Kaddish. This sense of crossing lines for the sake of unity must continue. It is important for each of us to resolve to show respect to those with whom we disagree, never impugning their motives.
4) Categorically reject revenge attacks: With a loud and strong voice, we must say no to individuals who take the law into their own hands, killing innocents. Rachel Fraenkel said it best.
As soon as she heard that Muhammad Abu Khdeir had been kidnapped and then burned to death in the Jerusalem Forest, she said, “If the young Arab really was murdered for nationalistic reasons, this is a horrifying and shocking act. There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder.
There is no justification and no atonement for murder.”
In this spirit, I believe we must be careful of our understanding of the word nekamah, oft translated as “revenge.”
“El nekamot Hashem” Psalms 94:1, said during Wednesday morning prayers, does not mean that the Lord is a God of revenge. Rather, it means the Lord is a God of retribution. Revenge is an emotional lashing out and engaging in collective punishment. Retribution is rational. It is justice based upon a rational system of reward and punishment.
During these past days, I’ve thought that maybe the word nekamah is associated with the word kum, “to rise,” or kiyum, “to be sustained.” When on Shabbat mornings we declare that before our eyes may the world know “nikmat dam avadecha hashafuch” (Psalms 79:10), what we’re saying is may the time come when the spilled blood of your servants, O God, be forever sustained; that is, may their legacy, their teachings, what they lived for and died for be forever remembered.
5) Anger is an emotion. We cannot control what we feel, but we can control our actions, and we should not act based on anger. I am angry. I am very angry. But we reach the highest levels when our emotions can take a back seat to our actions. It’s my prayer and my belief that the government of Israel and the army of Israel in the aftermath of the killings will continue to react calmly and deliberately, at a time and a place of their choosing, in a way that targets those individuals who committed this heinous crime, and those who support them.
6) The “Bring Back Our Boys” campaign was part of a larger issue: Even as our boys have been laid to rest, we should continue to be at the forefront of the universal struggle to #bringbackourgirls.
It has been noted that the murder of a person is the murder of a person, but the murder of a child is the end of civilization – the murder of the world. We will continue to be in touch with the NGOs of #bringbackourgirls and we plan to stand and raise our voices together with them.
7) Respond to hatred with love: The Midrash says that while Bila’am could have instructed an assistant to saddle his donkey for his journey to curse the Jews, he did so himself because his hatred for the Jewish people was so great that it defied the rule. And, the Midrash continues that we must do all we can to counteract hatred which defies the rule with acts of love that defy the rule. Here too, we can all make a difference. Each of us can think of one act, one kindness that we can do for another that perhaps can tip the balance of the world.
One final thought. So many prayers were offered for the boys in synagogues, in schools, at bar and bat mitzvahs, as we broke the glass under the huppah. Were our prayers in vain? It was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik who once argued that acceptance of prayer is a wish, a hope, but it is not its central core. He wrote, “The foundation of prayer is not the conviction of its effectiveness but the belief that through it, we approach God intimately... the basic function of prayer is not its practical consequences but the metaphysical formation of a fellowship consisting of God and man.”
And I would add that prayer is also the formation of fellowship and sistership between our people and all peoples. Our prayers these past days have not been in vain, as they brought us closer to God, closer to our fellow person, closer to our boys, Gil-Ad, Eyal and Naftali.The author is senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale – the Bayit, and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Yeshivat Maharat. His most recent book, Holistic Prayer, was just published by Maggid Press. His synagogue has since added a fourth card the rabbi plans to deliver to the family of Muhammad Abu Khdeir.