Tuesday, July 1, 2014

When Prayers Go Unanswered

Ever since the news reported their disappearance, we have been hoping, praying, and some pleading for the safe return of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped on June 12. Yesterday, all those words that each of us kept repeating seemed to fall short as reports quickly spread that those three boys were found murdered with the last whispers of one of the victims recorded by a phone call placed to 100, Israel’s emergency hotline. “They’ve kidnapped me.”

This national and international tragedy came to a tearful conclusion today… while difficult for me to express, the first line I read in a Times of Israel article today perfectly captured that whish we are all experiencing:

Despite frantic prayers and more than two weeks of desperate searching, the saga of the three kidnapped boys ended Tuesday with the mourner’s kaddish, the traditional prayer for the dead, with three families clasped in prayer and an entire country standing behind them.”
I heard the news, debates, and questions on the radio all morning and watched as the news streamed across my screen all day but until I read my email this evening I wasn’t even sure I would be writing this post (I encourage you to read the email pasted below from Rabbis Shraga Sherman & Mendy Cohen of Chabad of the Main Line). There are few words that can be said at this time that mean anything. It may be difficult for some to understand, and I have had to explain it a few times, but our connection to Israel is not just to a piece of land. We are one with Israel in body, mind, heart, and soul. No matter where we are in this world or where we are in life, we are one. These are our boys.

Unfortunately, as we still mourn we know that soon we will be defending ourselves to the same people that now offer their condolences because we are allowed to mourn and suffer tragedy but we are not allowed to fight back and defend ourselves against future tragedy. It is this constant back and forth of the emotional pendulum that also binds us together but, right now, we mourn. We silently remember ‘our boys’ and ask that our renewed prayers are heeded… let them be the last.



Yesterday, we all heard the tragic news from Israel. There are few words. Only grief. Sadness. Pain. For 18 days, the Jewish world was so united. We became one family. Our differences and labels of affiliations were pushed to the side. These 3 boys united us. They made us one. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali became our sons... our brothers... No, we never met them but they were OURS... We prayed, we cried, we demanded, we posted - BRING OUR BOYS HOME! It was OUR boys. The power of this unity deserved a different ending. Deserved a reunion of the Jewish world with their boys. Deserved an all night/all day dancing session at the Western Wall celebrating their safe return to their new large family, the family of Klal Yisroel. But it was not meant to be...

We are left heartbroken... numb... in grief... and angry...

First, we must mourn. There is a need for us to realize it is okay to cry and mourn the loss of a loved one... it is beyond words of consoling... it is real pain and tears... We lost 3 children... 3 brothers... As those families are now sitting shiva, we too feel that the deep sense of loss and the love we have for these children and their families.

It is only after we mourn that we will need to deal with our anger. The united Jewish family will have to stand strong and give the Land of Israel the support they will need and deserve.

Today is also the 20th yahrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, On the anniversary of a tzadik’s passing, all the light that he planted in this world—his teachings, good deeds, and everything in which he invested his life and being—all this shines brightly, so that anyone connected to him can receive blessings of life, happiness and wisdom. Today more than ever the world needs the comfort, the insight and the fortitude which the Rebbe taught us.

I have pasted below an article just released by Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, very well said…

Just as we mourn together today, so may we very soon celebrate together. May there be many Simchos by all of us, with the ultimate Simcha, the coming of Moshiach. May it already take place.

Rabbis Shraga Sherman & Mendy Cohen

P.S. - There will be a Farbrengen this evening at 9:15 p.m. (Chabad of the Main Line, 625 Montgomery Ave, Merion) marking the Rebbe’s 20th Yahrtzeit. It is a good time for us to be together and hear words of strength and inspiration. Please join us.

In memoriam Eyal, Gilad and Naftali from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

This past Shabbat we read the parsha of Chukkat with its almost incomprehensible commandment of the red heifer whose mixed with "living water" purified those who had been in contact with death so that they could enter the Mishkan, symbolic home of the glory of God. Almost incomprehensible, but not entirely so.

The mitzvah of the parah adumah, the red heifer, was a protest against the religions of the ancient world that glorified death. Death for the Egyptians was the realm of the spirits and the gods. The pyramids were places where, it was believed, the spirit of the dead Pharaoh ascended to heaven and joined the immortals.

The single most striking thing about the Torah and Tanakh in general is its almost total silence on life after death. We believe in it profoundly. We believe in olam haba (the world to come), Gan Eden (paradise), and techiyat hametim (the resurrection of the dead). Yet Tanakh speaks about these things only sparingly and by allusion. Why so?

Because too intense a focus on heaven is capable of justifying every kind of evil on earth. There was a time when Jews were burned at the stake, so their murderers said, in order to save their immortal souls. Every injustice on earth, every act of violence, even suicide bombings, can be theoretically defended on the grounds that true justice is reserved for life after death.

Against this Judaism protests with every sinew of its soul, every fibre of its faith. Life is sacred. Death defiles. God is the God of life to be found only by consecrating life. Even King David was told by God that he would not be permitted to build the Temple because dam larov shafachta, "you have shed much blood."

Judaism is supremely a religion of life. That is the logic of the Torah's principle that those who have had even the slightest contact with death need purification before they may enter sacred space. The parah adumah, the rite of the red heifer, delivered this message in the most dramatic possible way. It said, in effect, that everything that lives - even a heifer that never bore the yoke, even red, the color of blood which is the symbol of life - may one day turn to ash, but that ash must be dissolved in the waters of life. God lives in life. God must never be associated with death.

Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were killed by people who believed in death. Too often in the past Jews were victims of people who practiced hate in the name of the God of love, cruelty in the name of the God of compassion, and murder in the name of the God of life. It is shocking to the very depths of humanity that this still continues to this day.

Never was there a more pointed contrast than, on the one hand, these young men who dedicated their lives to study and to peace, and on the other the revelation that other young men, even from Europe, have become radicalized into violence in the name of God and are now committing murder in His name. That is the difference between a culture of life and one of death, and this has become the battle of our time, not only in Israel but in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria and elsewhere. Whole societies are being torn to shreds by people practicing violence in the name of God.

Against this we must never forget the simple truth that those who begin by practicing violence against their enemies end by committing it against their fellow believers. The verdict of history is that cultures that worship death, die, while those that sanctify life, live on. That is why Judaism survives while the great empires that sought its destruction were themselves destroyed.

Our tears go out to the families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. We are with them in grief. We will neither forget the young victims nor what they lived for: the right that everyone on earth should enjoy, to live a life of faith without fear.

Bila hamavet lanetzach: "May He destroy death forever, and may the Lord God wipe away the tears from all faces." May the God of life, in whose image we are, teach all humanity to serve Him by sanctifying life.