Funeral for the three kidnapped Israeli teens, July 1, 2014..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
This week, I, like everyone, have felt deep sadness and searing pain due to the terribly tragic, cold-blooded murder of Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah. But paradoxically, I have also felt strengthened and in high spirits. Israeli society has gone through a remarkable journey these past three weeks, a journey of solidarity, kinship and faith, led by the incredible grace and dignity demonstrated by the Shaer, Fraenkel and Yifrah families. Many of us have had these conflicting feelings of grief and hope, so eloquently described by a young man named Nitai, Gil- Ad’s and Naftali’s madrich (counselor) at Yeshivat Mekor Chaim, in his eulogy: “In the process of looking so hard for you... in the end, we found ourselves.”
Immediately after the boys’ funeral in Modi’in, I went to officiate at the wedding of a young couple. Prior to the breaking of the glass under the huppa (bridal canopy), I emotionally shared a new understanding of the puzzling custom of joyfully shouting “Mazal Tov” upon hearing the sound of the broken glass. I explained that the more our enemies try to break us, the stronger we become, enabling us to succeed in continuing to build our national home. Brokenness and re-building are interwoven into who we are.
Precisely because of the complicated mix of feelings produced by these days of profound meaning, I would like to pose a challenge to Israeli society.
The challenge comes in the form of questions that have been bothering me constantly over the past few days.
• How can we continue these feelings of solidarity and unity?
• How can we make sure that the sense of togetherness in our society does not regress under the cynical influence of the media and craven politicians seeking high TV ratings?
• How can we not be dragged into divisiveness and hate by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum?
• How can we ensure that the emptiness of reality shows such as Big Brother do not once again dominate our culture, wasting our minds with debased content and tragically displacing the inspiration we had drawn upon from seeing the depth and inner strength of the Shaer, Fraenkel and Yifrah families?
To begin to answer these questions, I want to explore a challenging Midrash about Akeidat Yitzhak (the binding of Isaac) that has a significant message for us: After exclaiming, “Do not place your hand on the boy”(Genesis 22:12), the angel continues to instruct Abraham, saying, “Do not do anything to him!” Based on this seemingly redundant statement, the Sages taught that Abraham requested that God allow him to at least wound or cut Isaac.
Why would Abraham want to do something like that to his son? Why was he being so insistent about wounding Isaac? IN HIS book Michtav M’Eliyahu, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler explains that Abraham had a very specific request of God: “Due to the Akeidah, you brought me – against my will – to very high spiritual place.
But what I am supposed to do with that spiritual energy now?! Any spiritual height attained by either an individual or community is destined to fade, unless it is accompanied by a meaningful act that will affirm and sustain that new level reached.”
Our forefather Abraham desired to perform an action in order to affirm and sustain the level that he had reached with the strength of mind and spirit required by the Akeidah.
Therefore, God immediately showed him a means of channeling his energy: “And [Abraham] saw, and behold, a(nother) ram caught in the thicket...”
(Genesis 22:13) – the very ram that Avraham brought as a sacrifice in place of his son.
Similarly, the tragic akeidah of the three pure, brave teens has brought Israeli society – against our will – to a higher place of solidarity, mutual caring and national pride.
Specifically for this reason, we must do something now, before we regress to our normal routines. We must bring together all segments of the society: religious and secular, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and traditional, olim and long-time citizens, and enter into a serious dialogue about our common fate and destiny.
We must not for one moment let go of this sense of solidarity.
“Scarcely had I passed them, when I found the one I love: I held him tightly, and would not let him go...”
(Song of Songs 3:4).
We must not allow the battle for TV ratings to drag us back to the media’s “gladiator arena,” in which divisive partisans from different political extremes battle it out while we are encouraged to sit comfortably in our living room recliners, enjoying the show. Let us flee from the worthlessness of reality shows, and from media personalities who attempt to focus our attention on the negative and divisive elements of our society.
We must boycott these types of programs, and instead provide good ratings to programs that deal with positive issues: loving each other, communal solidarity, national spiritual strength, faith, togetherness and dialogue. If we can do this, then our society, which has been transformed over these past several weeks, will be meaningfully and permanently impacted. Please join me in this endeavor.
“May death be swallowed up forever, and may Hashem wipe the tears from every face...” (Isaiah 25:8).
The writer is executive director of the Beit Hillel rabbinical organization.