Shock. Horror. Pain. Anger. Sadness. A mix of emotions welled over us as we heard the horrible news that the three missing boys in Israel, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, were found murdered. We had hoped and we had prayed that this would have a different ending, but instead we were faced with the unspeakable.
Immediate reactions ranged from questioning the response of the police to demanding revenge and reprisals. While I do not discount these reactions, I personally feel that the story of the last 18 days — the story that will remain of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali to those who never knew them personally — was a much deeper and profound one.
Here is what I learned over that time.
1) How amazing is it to be part of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, kidnappings and murder are not rare occurrences in our world. Every similar situation should be mourned, but it is impossible for any human being to truly take notice and react to every terrible situation in the world. When does it really hit us? When God forbid it happens to those close to us — our family, our friends. Then we take notice and really feel the situation. Three boys we don’t know, taken thousands of miles away from many of us — and we reacted as if they were family. No, not “as if”; they are our family. How amazing to be part of a Jewish nation that feels this range of emotion and deep caring for each other across continents and languages. This caring and love should be cherished.
2) We truly can be unified. Unfortunately we dwell on what separates us. Religious or secular, Israeli or Diaspora, right-wing or left-wing. We have differences and we see things differently. And that is fine. But too often those divisions make us incapable of looking at each other as brothers and sisters. Are we unable to respect those that are different than us because we believe so strongly that what divides us is so much greater and more important than what we share? That Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali were religious, or learning in a “settlement,” didn’t matter when we saw what we shared. They were our boys. Being part of the Jewish people, having a love for the Land of Israel, being part of a family. We identified and we united.
3) Our deep sense of caring pushed us to be better people. While we watched anxiously to see what the Israeli government and military’s reaction would be, our personal reaction focused on prayer, kind deeds, and an outpouring of love. Thousands stood together at the Western Wall and in other locations praying for their safety — religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox, soldiers, etc. Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid revealed, “I haven’t prayed in six years. I haven’t gone into a synagogue since my son’s bar mitzva. When I heard what had happened to your sons, I turned my house upside down to look for my grandfather’s prayer book. I sat down and prayed.” High school students did acts of kindness as a merit for the three boys. A deep, profound reaction that came from our souls.
The coming days and weeks will turn our focus on political inquiries, military operations, and most probably, criticisms of Israeli reactions — both calling for more restraint and more revenge. Much of this will come from the deep pain we are experiencing and from a yearning to feel that the boys’ murder did not happen in vain. My sense is that the best way to honor Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali is to strive to continue to live with what they inspired within us. To not let our heightened sense of unity, love, and connection die out with their deaths. But instead, to use their lives and their tragic murders as a springboard to care about each other, to realize how blessed we are to be part of the Jewish nation, and to further commit to fulfilling our national calling.
In this week’s Torah portion we read about Bilaam, an enemy who aims to curse the Jewish people. We learn how God turns Bilaam’s curses into blessings. No one would ever wish these horrendous circumstances upon anyone and our prayers, tears, and consolations go out to the bereaved families. But from afar, our opportunity is to turn our enemy’s curse into a blessing. To turn their hatred and desire to divide us into a powerful response that can uplift us as a nation.