The Gift of the Three Kedoshim

Dear Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali:

We are grateful that we do not have to face your families. We would have to say something – and we can’t. Can we tell them that we share their loss? If we feel a huge void, can it compare to the dark, cavernous expanse of their loss?

We cannot really grasp what our world has lost by losing you. We do not have the words to describe it, nor explain it.
We might, however, be able to articulate what we have gained, what you left us, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.

Many critics – including friendly critics – of the Jewish State have argued that Israel has turned into a soul-less country. Sometime after the June War, Israeli society went off in all sorts of different directions. A new generation grew up that knew neither the pioneering spirit of Israel’s founders, nor the bubble of bravado that enveloped them after the stunning victory over the Arab armies in 1967. Israel struggled with poverty, absorption of immigrants, the stratification of income. It tired of sending its sons and daughters off to the front to fight barbarians, only to return to homes under siege by other barbarians.

Through all of this, Israel survived, prevailed, thrived economically. But, according to several writers in the last few years, it lost its soul. Even non-Jews who visited found a different Israel than the one they admired in the first decades of her existence. Previously, there were no questions about who Israelis were, and why they had to fight for their country. Increasingly, it seemed to many, there were no answers.

For eighteen days, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, you gave us back our soul. You reminded us that we are not a few million people with some ill-defined ties through a history about which we have only some fuzzy understanding. You allowed us to look at each other, and see ourselves in the people around us. Until we found out about your abduction, we sometimes despised and vilified many of the people with whom we now stood in prayer and longing together. Secular and religious, haredi and dati-leumi, Ashkenazic and Sefardic, black and white, leftist and rightist, young and old. We found common cause, a common heart – and even common words of prayer. Even those who had not prayed in years. We discovered that when we stopped screaming at each other, we spoke to G-d.

Please don’t misunderstand me. We have come together before. We always do, at times of adversity. But far more happened in the last eighteen days. It was not that we were appalled by the kidnapping of three young people. It was you in particular to whom we responded to. Your smiles, your innocence, your dedication to ideal. We found, without saying so, that when we looked inside ourselves, what we wanted to find was you. We had rediscovered the part of our national identity that we could all share.

We found our national soul.

We cannot console ourselves. But we can say “Thank you.”

And we can daven, that with so many having found their souls, that they will nurture them, that the cold, dark sorrow of mourning will turn into a fiery devotion of a people to its G-d, its Torah, its people, and its Land.

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9 Responses

  1. Rabbi Harry Zeitlin says:

    May we retain forever the soul and solidarity that was revealed these last weeks.

  2. Chana Rivka Gersh says:

    Beautifully said; thank you!

  3. Gershon Spiegel says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein. I looked to Cross-Current to help make sense of this tragedy and was not disappointed.

  4. Raymond says:

    I do not see why we Jews cannot always be as united as we have been these last eighteen days. As long we Jews have at least some measure of respect for our Torah and its traditions, we should respect one another.

    What exactly did those barbaric followers of Allah gain by committing such cowardly acts of pure evil? What kind of perverse minds gets pleasure or even thinks about doing something like those kidnappings and murders in the first place? We Jews do all we can to enhance life and build civilizations, while their side spends all of its time and energy destroying lives and destroying civilizations. I am so tired of us Jews being the doormats to the world. May G-d avenge the blood of those three students and all the other Jews throughout our history who have been so senselessly murdered.

  5. Yisrael Asper says:

    “We would have to say something – and we can’t.”

    You did say something and precisely what there is to say. We can’t talk too much of anything else right now without them being on our minds returning to them as our topic of conversation and their is plenty to say, the same thing again and again in different ways in appreciation of them. Yes there should be a price to pay and that would hopefully serve as a warning to our enemies, but what would and really does give us their legacy is what they brought out in us. Everyone was together, secular, Chareidi, Dati Leumi. Even Shimon Peres who fairly or unfairly has looked like he was lacking the backbone of standing up for his people, urging peace negotiations despite the terror, still rose to the occasion at the UN. It had to be inside us or else it would not have come out.

  6. Meira-Leah says:

    Thank you Rabbi. These words are a comfort to many of us who could find no words at this time. They also provide some sense of direction and purpose. It would be another tragedy for people to feel frozen or that their prayers were futile.

  7. Nachum says:

    With all due respect, this post would have been better without the gratuitous swipes at the “loss of soul.” This is unfair and the result of some crude stereotypes from that era. The “soul” of today didn’t come from nowhere.

  8. Ben Waxman says:

    I do not see why we Jews cannot always be as united as we have been these last eighteen days

    The break apart, the arguments, the anger at “the other” has already started. Minister Yair Lapid was invited by one of the families to eulogize their son. That invitation generated a decent amount of heat in some quarters. “Him?? Not the Rav HaRashi, not the Ramat Kal, not Gideon Sa’ar who is getting a bit religious? Yair Lapid?”?????

  9. L. Oberstein says:

    I have just returned from 2 weeks in Israel. It was palpable that everyone in Israel felt closely the tragedyThe sense of family and the personal concern of everyone was evident. The only sour note was an o ed in Haaretz from an avowed athiest who couldn’t stand that everyone but him was praying. He felt that this wasn’t his Israel and why were secular people praying to the G-d of the settlers. It just showed how out of touch Haaretz is with the spirit of Israel today. It must be in a time warp.

    NPR interviewed someone from Gaza today and he kept talking about the 3ew settlers. That makes it easier to justify murdering teenagers just because they were Jews.

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