Parashat Masa’ay begins by listing the forty-two journeys that the Jews took from Egypt to the border of Eretz Yisra’el. Reb Shmu’el of Sochachov points out that the number 42 is significant. There are 42 words in the first section of the “Shema Yisra’el.” The Rebbe continues by equating the “Devaykut” (deep abiding connection with God) that is expressed by the “Shema” with the journeys of the Jews throughout the 40 years in the desert. The Rebbe also quotes his father who says that the point of the journey is the end, the place that marks the end of the journey. Based on the Rebbe’s “Derasha,” we can use the Torah’s presentation of the journeys of the Jewish people as a metaphor for what we experience. Each of our lives is a journey. This journey is often made up of smaller, shorter journeys. My own journey started in Los Angeles. From there I travelled to Israel, to Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, then back to LA, then to YU in New York, back to Israel to Yeshivat HaKotel, back to YU, then to St. Louis, back to LA and then back to Israel on Aliyah 31 years ago. Certainly, each of you can list the journeys you have taken in life until now. Living in Israel is its own journey. I feel that I am living through the making of Jewish history. I realize that things are happening to Jews elsewhere, but the sense I have is that for the last almost 70 years, the main text of Jewish history is filled with the events of Israeli history and everything else is a footnote. Thus, by coming here and raising a family here with my wife, we have joined the main stream of Jewish history that leads inevitably to the end of days and “Mashi’ach.” For some of those living in Israel, their personal journey has led them to what we call the Gaza Strip. These are our children. Indeed, I do not even put the word, our, into quotation marks, because I feel that everyone who is a parent or grandparent in this wee country thinks of the boys and girls in olive green uniforms as our children. Therefore, our eyes well up with tears as we see that the journey for some of our soldiers ended in Gaza. Even if these young men did not articulate it, I am confident that deep down they realized that every step they took in Gaza, every bullet they fired was a “Kiddush HaShem.” Indeed, we can say definitively that they died “Al Kiddush HaShem.” For many of them, their journey only ended when they were gathered up by the holy earth of Eretz Yisra’el. Many of the funerals were attended by people who did not know them or their families. Thus, the funerals themselves were acts of Kiddush HaShem. This was especially true of two funerals, for two “lone soldiers.” Earlier this week, Sean Carmeli was buried in Haifa. Here is an email Steve Lax received from his son who was among the 20,000 people who attended Sean’s funeral: I just got this long text message from my oldest, Aaron (aka Gooey). He went to to Sean Carmeli’s funeral today outside of Haifa. Sean was one of the Golani Brigade soldiers killed recently. He was a Lone Soldier. It was scheduled for 11 p.m. because his parents flew in from Texas. Aaron’s words are powerful. “I will give you the main idea of what I experienced tonight… “I drove with 5 other friends from Tel Aviv to Haifa in which on of my friends had to sit on my lap for the entire hour or so ride. The funeral was being called for 11 p.m. and we got there at around 10:15 so we could get a good view. As soon as we entered the cemetery, I immediately had chills rolling down my spine. I knew that probably 90% of the people at the funeral didn’t even know Sean. But to see people’s tears and sorrow like it was their own son was astonishing to me. We weaved our way through the already jam packed crowd even though we were 45 min early. People were hugging each other and crying and grieving like the worst natural disaster just happened. And yet they were weeping over an American boy, only 21 years old who they have never met, and will never be able to meet, because he sacrificed his life for the country he loved. “The procession was delayed for over 25 minutes because it was so packed they couldn’t even properly walk the casket through the mob of grieving people. You could hear women crying and screaming in sorrow all the way in the back as well as his parents sniffling and gently crying in the background of the microphone. I stood there looking around as the father barely got out a single understandable word of “Kaddish” as he watched his son get lowered into the ground. The unity of a nation all responding “Amen” in unison was one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. Around 15,000 people coming together to mourn and celebrate the life of a young and beautiful soul. “This country is nothing you will ever find in the world. We unite like no other country, we fight like no other country, and we love each and every single person like no other country. This is Am Yisrael and there is no other place in the world I would rather call my home! May Sean and the rest of the Carmeli family be watched over and may he rest in peace!” This week, there was a second funeral of a lone soldier, Max Steinberg from Los Angeles. 30,000 people accompanied him to his final resting place on Mount Herzl. The fact that two young men made Aliyah alone and joined the IDF is in and of itself a Kiddush HaShem. To give up their lives to defeat Israel’s enemies is a further Kiddush HaShem. Even though their personal journeys came to an end, they were the catalysts for the beginning of other peoples’ journeys. In death, they wrote new chapters in the long journey of Jewish unity. We are one while our enemies are fragmented. We talk about the Hamas in Gaza, but we cannot forget that there are other groups fighting us there. The Arab “world” is fragmented. Even while they pay lip service to supporting Hamas, under their breath they are rooting for the IDF. We stand together. We cry together. We mourn together. We are one. Yes, there are those Israelis who scream at the rest of us for going to war and killing Palestinians. You and I know that that is just for show. When the siren sounds, they run like everyone else for the shelters and pray that the IDF finished the job in Gaza. We are one. We have all seen reports in the news about the tremendous outpouring of assistance and love for our soldiers from every Israeli community – from Haredim to the national religious to the traditional to the non-religious – everyone has picked up where the mourners for Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg left off. Together, we continue the journey of unity. We are one. We walk hand in hand together writing new lines, paragraphs and pages about our journey through Jewish history.
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