And You Shall Teach Your Children

Teaching one’s children is a basic premise of Judaism. As a father and a husband, I am honored by the obligation that my wife Jen and I have to teach Dovid and Sima, our children. They are young yet, 11 and 9 respectively, and though the lessons must be learned, I wonder what are they actually ready to hear, what can they comprehend? I am at a loss as to how to explain something that I, more than a ½ century old, am dearly challenged to understand.

How do I create a comprehensible order from all the chaos that confounds us since the abduction of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel, Hashem yinkom damam, the three boys stolen from outside our gate here in Alon Shvut  and the subsequent abduction of Mohammed Abu-Khder, the Israeli Arab, later found incinerated in a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem. There has got to be some teaching moment here somewhere.

I keep coming up with random and unconnected Torah thoughts. I am left thinking about the eglah arufah, Pinchas, and portions of parshat Ki Teitzei discussing the ben sorer umoreh, among others.

The eglah arufah  involves the incidence of a body is found between two communities. A ceremony follows in which the leaders of the nearest community declare that their community had nothing to do with the tragedy. If no one involved is guilty, why should they bring the offering? Rashi offers that the communities were involved, if not by an act of commission than by an act of omission. And that is where I feel we in the Gush, specifically my home of Alon Shvut stand today. What did we do? What didn’t we do? How did we fail Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali, Hashem yinkom damam?

My children walk to school near the bus stop where the tragedy occurred. Every single teenager in Gush Etzion hitchhikes.  In a few years I fully anticipate my children would as well. They probably will be standing at the same spot waiting for a lift to visit friends or explore. I was raised in Brooklyn and was taking the IRT into Manhattan long before my bar mitzvah. The idea of my kids having a similar freedom never troubled me here in Israel until this tragedy. How do I let them go? How do I protect them without suffocating them? We came to Israel to be free in our land, how can I help them know this freedom and love our land while keeping them safe?

It is the response to this tragedy that I will focus on. Racheli Frankel, in a conversation during shivah, found a silver thread (a lining would be beyond even her remarkable grasp) and that was the achdut and ahavat Yisrael achieved in the tragedy. I will tell my children of the dignity of the three mothers mourning for the boys and relate to them that this strength was rooted in their commitment to Torah. Near the spot the boys were taken, alongside the Gush Etzion junction, a new homestead has been established where, despite primitive conditions, Torah is taught in their merit, raising the boys’ memories higher and higher in Heaven. Neighbors now greet each other more warmly. Local rebbeim have spoken to the communities describing offering a ride as a tremendous expression of hachnasat orchim, and now we go out of our way to offer rides anywhere we are going before we are asked.

What I hope to convey to Dovid and Sima is this sense of achdut and recognition of the interdependence of one Jew for another, that has become an imperative and to recognize that learning Torah and loving Jews is the Jewish response to this tragedy, not the abduction and horrific murder of an Arab child. It is this latter point of the heinous behavior of what appears to be Jewish youths that I fear teaching them at their tender years. There will be time in the future, no doubt, to hear of this crime. For now I suffice in telling them that there exists good and bad in all groups, many Arabs are good and that baruch Hashem the overwhelming number of Jews are worthy of the great honor of being Jewish.

The abduction of Mohammed Abu-Khder leaves me distraught, challenged to comprehend how Jewish youth, ostensibly from Torah homes, could even be implicated in this. According to reports of the six youth charged, three have confessed to the the crime. To look at Mohammed Abu-Khder is to see a frail, even sickly adolescent. To think he was in fact not their first attempted abduction but was taken only after they failed in snatching a nine-year-old is horrifying.

What depravity infected their hearts? The “heat of the moment argument” fails because Abu-Khder was not their first target. They were angry and enraged. So what? So was all of klal Yisrael. Our response: davening, learning, chessed.  We took up the pen and not the sword. These boys are not righteous zealots following the path of Pinchas. They are thugs who took a pathetic-looking boy, abducted him and killed him.

We as a nation are better than this; this is the way of our enemies. These misguided and malevolent boys, each evincing a wickedness bringing to my mind the concept of the ben sorer umoreh, have brought damage to their parents, homes, and Beit Yisrael. What good could they have imagined would come of this? Could they not see that their revenge was not only vile and sadistic but damaged Israel tactically and strategically, rendering us more vulnerable than ever to a world committed to attacking us politically, branding and banishing us as pariahs?

In the same parashah as the ben sorer umoreh, the Torah commits to immortality the treachery of Amalek whose stated atrocity was attacking the weak and defenseless. We are enjoined to remember and never to forget their atrocities. If only the tragedies of the last three weeks to these teens never occurred, I wouldn’t have to remember something I wish I could forget, never have to teach my children what all people are capable of.

Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in AlonShvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com.