What the Families Have Taught Us About Ourselves

Something has happened in Israel over the past two weeks. The pintele Yid has shaken off the dust of strident secularism that appeared to have crusted over.

The unity has coalesced around three missing boys — Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frankel and Eyal Yifrach — and their families, who have inspired the world with their faith, nobility and courage. Their message, delivered with passion and eloquence, is one of gratitude to the rescue forces who have been combing the hills of Chevron for their sons and to world Jewry for its warm embrace, and a plea that people continue to do everything they can to bring their boys home, especially to daven.

In appearances before the media and even, on Tuesday, before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, the mothers, drawing from deep wells of faith, manage to come across as upbeat and hopeful, not broken, emotional wrecks, so as not to play into the hands of the terrorists and increase their bargaining power.

As Emily Amrousi, a journalist who is also a friend and neighbor of the Shaar family in Talmon, wrote in Yisrael Hayom: “They are concerned for their son, but also for the strength of the nation, the message that will be conveyed to the terrorists in the future, the spirit of national unity.”

This faith-based strength has touched something deep inside the Israeli secular psyche. On a radio program on Friday, one of two hosts was commenting that he had been religious as a youth but left the fold. And yet, when he heard the bachurim at Yeshivat Mekor Chaim, where two of the kidnapped boys learn, swaying and singing min hameitzar karati Ka, he couldn’t help but feel that they were connecting to Something Higher, in a way that secular Jews can’t do.

“Isn’t it obvious,” responded his cohost, “that you can’t connect to Something Higher if you don’t recognize It?”

And when the original host added that he sees a difference between religious funerals, that have content and structure and meaning, and secular ones that try feebly to create such meaning with poems and songs and the like, the co-host wryly noted, “sounds like there’s something you’re longing for.”

That longing, for that which sustains these families at this nightmarish time, has brought the most unlikely people to reach for their siddurim. Even Yair Lapid, who has done untold harm to the religious world in Israel in his brief tenure as finance minister, shared the following with the Shaar family, as witnessed and recounted by the journalist Amrousi. “I haven’t prayed in six years,” Lapid told Mrs. Shaar. “I haven’t gone into a synagogue since my son’s bar mitzvah. When I heard what had happened to your sons, I turned my house upside down to look for my grandfather’s prayerbook. I sat down and prayed.”

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At Shabbos tables this week, the topics of conversation everywhere will likely be the boys and how their families are coping, and the parashah, specifically, what occurred at mei merivah that kept Moshe Rabbeinu out of Eretz Yisrael?

While we can’t possibly fathom the lofty levels of Moshe Rabbeinu nor of the dor de’ah, and we know that what was considered for them a “sin” is something that can never be compared to the sins committed by ordinary people, we draw lessons from the words of the meforshim on this topic.

One opinion holds that Moshe Rabbeinu erred when he turned to a nation that was thirsting for water and said, “Shim’u na hamorim — Listen now, O rebels …” (Bamidbar 20:10), and the Ibn Ezra says this can’t be correct, since in Devarim, in Moshe’s final address to the Jewish people, he recalls their misbehavior in the desert and says “Mamrim heyisem im Hashem — You behaved in a rebellious fashion against Hashem” (9:7). If Moshe’s punishment stemmed from calling them rebels, surely he wouldn’t have repeated it!

Harav Zev Leff, the Rav of Moshav Mattityahu, cites an explanation given by Reb Shlomo Ostrik, a disciple of the Rashba. It answers the Ibn Ezra’s question and sheds light on what we’re seeing in Israel today.

There is a difference between saying that someone is a rebel, by definition, and saying that he is acting in a rebellious fashion. It is perfectly acceptable, in Devarim, for Moshe to point to inappropriate behavior and give Am Yisrael mussar. To define them, in their essence, as rebels is something else entirely.

At times like these, when there is a spiritual yearning to connect with one another and Hashem that unites us, we must internalize that while it is legitimate, and necessary, to criticize the conduct of our misguided brothers who are tinokos shenishbu, we must bear in mind that they are still our brothers and within their hearts is a pintele Yid.

Finally, something has happened around the world in the past two weeks. An incalculable number of tefillos have been uttered, pirkei Tehillim recited, tears shed. As Mrs. Rachel Frankel, mother of Naftali, correctly stated, “Hashem doesn’t work for us,” meaning that we must daven but must accept that He is the Power who decides what will occur, for only He knows what is good for us. At the same time, there is no doubt that the very process of davening with such intensity, with such unity, has changed us all for the better.

May the zechus of these tefillos and good deeds be a merit for the bachurim, and may they soon be reunited with their families.