In his sefer “Gesher Hachaim” (Chelek 3 Chapter 2) HaRav Yechiel Michel Tukechinsky writes that: ….Our life in this world is simply a bridge between the past – life before birth; and the future – life after death. He suggests quite beautifully that whilst developing as embryo’s in our mother’s womb we are preparing for the birth of our body. Once we are physically born into this world, we spend our lives preparing for the real birth of our souls, and as we die, our soul is born – and that soul will live for eternity.
I left Gush Etzion for South Africa just a few hours after Naftali, Gilad and Eyal got into a car, on what appeared to be a regular early Friday morning, only to discover what had really transpired in the dark hours of the night before, 12 hours later, upon my arrival in Johannesburg. I landed last night from New York at 8:30 pm, and as we all turned on our phones, a collective sigh of devastation swept through the airplane. I immediately phoned my wife, but we were both too choked up to speak.
We have been praying all over the world for two and a half weeks, both privately and together. I participated in two inspiring gatherings in Johannesburg; and on Sunday night was emotionally overwhelmed at a wedding of a student in New Jersey when, towards the end of the ceremony, moments before the wondrous joy of a newly married couple erupted, everything stopped for two chapters of Tehillim, Everything stopped, and everyone stopped – the prayer was real, the anxiety almost tangible, quite incredible. And I am sure that every one reading this has been in some way involved in our national objective to “bring back our boys”.
Our three boys, during almost that entire period, have been in Shamayim looking down from their eternity at their inspiring and determined families, at the communal strength of the yishuvim Talmon, Nof Ayalon and Elad, at their beloved friends at Yeshiva crying and praying tirelessly for their release – they have seen the courageous and stubbornly strong Nation of Israel. They have watched our indefatigable soldiers turn over every stone in Yehuda and Shomron, whilst simultaneously protecting the people of the South from the rockets of Hamas. They have seen hundreds of volunteer’s work 24/7 assisting the army in their searches, they have watched the Knesset of Israel, Malchut Yisrael, fight relentlessly to be heard on the world stage – from Shamayim our three boys have seen the true Am Yisrael – they have observed our nation at its very best.
We could be forgiven for that momentary thought that all our efforts were in vain. But we must know that nothing could be further from the truth. Of course we did not receive the result we had prayed for – tragically it would appear that by the time we began to pray, what we were praying for was never really an option – but we must never underestimate the importance of what we have done together for the last two and a half weeks. And now we must continue to be together – we cannot only be united by oppression and anguish, we must realize the strength of what we have and build on it.
As I came off the airplane a young man in Chassidic clothing turned to me with such pain, and asked me if I had heard the terrible news. I saw the sadness in his eyes; he saw it in mine. Just half a year ago we were worlds apart, but when all is said and done we are brothers – the look said it all. I looked back at my Chasidic brother and nodded. If I had not been so drained from my recent flights, I now know what I should have done. I should have hugged him, it’s what I wanted to do, and at a guess it is what he wanted to do too. An opportunity missed, and I still regret it, but the fact that we both feel that way gives me such hope.
If the King was beginning to listen to the words of Haman – describing Am Yisrael as “a divisive and split nation” – the courageous tireless parents of these three boys invoked the principle of Esther – “go gather all the Jews”. And gathered we were, and gathered we are – all of us, from Kikar Rabin to the outside of the UN building in America, from Africa to Teaneck, from Gush Etzion to Tel Aviv – Am Echad beLev Echad – one people with one heart. We cannot bring our boys back, but they have brought us back – together; they have reminded us of the prophecy of Bilaam – “Am Levadad Yishkon” – we are one people, we may stand alone, but as long as we stand together we will see all of our enemies off. They will not and cannot overcome us as long as we remain united!
Tefillot are never wasted, and the vibrations we have made in the Heavens will be ringing for a long time to come. We don’t begin to understand the power of our prayer; there is no black and white here, it is not all or nothing. As the father of Nachshon Wachsman said, having just buried his son Nachshon, (a young soldier murdered by Hamas after having been abducted) – We turn to God as a son turns to his Father. The father does not always say yes – he does what he deems to be right – and the loving son, confused and upset, bows his head in subservience and accepts that his father knows what he is doing. We are confused and so upset, but we accept that God is God, we are flesh and blood; we simply cannot understand His ways.
Our hearts go out to the families – every one of us here knows that it could have been our children at the bus stop, as cautious as we try to be, we have to go on living. We came here to stay, we came home after two millennia of exile and we have no intention of leaving. We intend to live here in the way that other peoples live in civilized society.
The faith and strength shown by the parents of the boys is almost beyond belief. We often preach such behavior, we read about heroes of the past – but to see it with our own eyes is inspirational. These families will live with the tragedy forever. They will have to confront life without Naftali, Gilad and Eyal for the rest of their lives – and there can be no greater challenge than that. In a week’s time, when the news moves on to other issues, the parents will still be without their children; we will revisit on days of memorial, but henceforth everyday will be a day of memorial for them.
Naftali, Gilad and Eyal are in Shamayim, they are in a section of Heaven reserved only for those who have died whilst sanctifying the name of God. Their souls have been born into the world of eternity. We pray now together that they rest in peace. We will accompany them this afternoon on their final journey in this world. Representatives of the whole nation will be there and we will never forget these young innocent boys taken in their prime so cruelly, by such evil people.
I conclude with much sadness. The stone that fell upon my heart 18 days ago has a feeling of permanence. We will go now to join the funerals, and I know that I will cry as I cry now as I am writing these words. I cried on the plane, I cried as I embraced my son last night who has just lost three school/yeshiva friends – but as I walk and cry, I will walk with pride that I am a Jew living in Israel, that I belong to a people that is often the victim. But as Rav Amital said on many occasions, when the victor is so evil, so drenched in the blood of the innocent, then be proud that you are nothing to do with him, be proud that you represent the Image of God. We lost three pure Yeshiva boys, we know now how to defend ourselves, but we will never be them, we will never do what they do – they know that, they might even use it against us – but truth always prevails. We represent truth. The world can manipulate, tell tales, report what they choose to report – but truth will prevail. We will remain who we are, we must remain together, we will always aim to do what is right; we will not lower ourselves to their standards and, b’ezrat Hashem, we will ultimately succeed.
Shetihiyeh zichram baruch.