The Jewish world is a small and interconnected place, proving that the Jewish people are one extended family. My best friend, who lives in Passaic, our last address in the United States before we made Aliyah, is married to a woman whose brother is fighting in the Givati combat unit in the IDF. She made an appeal for us to all daven for her brother’s commanding officer, Hadar Goldin, a young religious officer in Palsar Givati, an elite reconnaissance unit of the infantry brigade who was abducted by Hamas and subsequently declared dead by Israel’s military Rabbinate.
Hadar, by all accounts, was a remarkable person, which is clear to anyone who has looked at his picture and seen the love in his smile and the joy in his eyes. Dedicated and committed to Torah, he was a beloved counselor to his Bnei Akiva youth group, where he was a compassionate and caring counselor, influencing hundreds of young Jews with his righteousness. As testament to his beliefs, he sewed onto his rifle strap the words “strength” and “humility” to remind him that all of life’s accomplishments are a gift from Hashem. His funeral reflected the vast spectrum of Jewish life in Israel: religious zionist, chareidi, secular, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Ethiopian, new immigrant and Israeli, teens from the nation’s many youth movements, and soldiers, many fresh from Gaza. In all, there were a reported 20,000 people fulfilling the mitzvah of escorting the dead, accompanying Hadar in his last corporeal moments.
Whenever I think of the mitzvah of escorting the dead, I think of the other mitzvos surrounding it in the Gemara in maseches Shabbos, which we recite in the morning brachos: honoring parents; acts of chessed; early attendance at shul; showing hospitality to guests; visiting the sick; providing for a bride; kavanah in prayer; encouraging peace between people. Counterbalancing them all is the learning of Torah. By all accounts, this litany of mitzvos, save one to be discussed, had been either performed by Hadar in his short life or inspired by him since his capture and the subsequent pronouncement of his death. The mitzvos had been performed to the level of mehudar, the highest level — appropriate, as his name, Hadar, is another form of the word and means glory or splendor.
The one mitzvah he had not performed was the mitzvah that Hadar was looking forward to, as his wedding to Edna, his kallah, was imminent. At a news conference, when the nation believed Hadar was still alive, Edna, crying, said to Hadar, “I miss you; I’m waiting [for] our wedding.” Hadar never had the chance to fulfill this happiest of mitzvos and Edna now begins her young life with his death.
At the graveside, Hadar’s father, Dr. Simcha Goldin, a scholar of medieval Jewry at Tel Aviv University, made an emotional appeal to the thousands of mourners to live their lives as Hadar had lived his: to look for the best in every person and always be smiling. Dr. Goldin further implored the crowd to find inspiration in Hadar’s life and to be better people. “For those who would seek to emulate him — act decently and do not hate each other” and, later, to “remember his radiant smile; that is the proper way for people to interact with each other.”
In the last few weeks I have met dozens and dozens of soldiers. Each and every one is righteous in his way. Much like Hadar, may his memory be a blessing and his life an inspiration, their faces and smiles reveal a love and respect for humanity and a desire to protect and defend the Jewish people and Israel. Last week, I and my friend Gabi, whom I’ve written about (column “Gutten Moeds” July 23), were driving to the Gaza border to bring food and toiletries to the soldiers and to bring Gabi’s son Amichai back to base, where his unit was readying to enter Gaza. No, Amichai was not AWOL — he was given a special 36-hour pass to go get a suit and buy a ring for his upcoming wedding, baruch Hashem, in a week. No ring, no wedding clothes — no way! So Amichai, in a mad dash to squeeze much into little time, accomplished the impossible and all is now ready for the wedding.
When we returned Amichai to his staging area, he introduced me to his young commanding officer, Dror, who was about the same age and rank as Hadar. Dror made an impression: He was confident, bright and focused. I asked if Dror was a “good officer.” Amichai answered that he was, and gave me the following example. There are a couple of religious soldiers in the unit who come from very impoverished homes. When it comes time to distribute pay to the soldiers, Dror hands these soldiers an extra envelope with money and tells them that the army sent extra money for Shabbos. I asked Amichai if the army regularly does this and he laughed and said, “Never. Dror took the money from his own pocket and gave it to the boys so they could have more for Shabbat.” The soldiers never realized they were receiving charity — mitzvah mehudar! I asked if Dror was observant or traditional. Amichai again laughed and told me that Dror is from a kibbutz in the north of Israel and is definitely not religious. When one Jew can go beyond himself to help another Jew, it proves how connected we all really are. In Dror’s perfect chessed, chessed mehudar, he proved his ahavas yisroel. And that is his essence.
This column is dedicated to the chayalim of the IDF — May Hashem watch over them and protect them as they risk their lives for the citizens of Israel. This column is also dedicated to Edna, may Hashem find her a glorious and wonderful shidduch soon, and may her tears of sorrow turn into the joyous tears of a kallah.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst, and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com.